healthy bays, drowning lands

You will pay more for a healthy Gulf. And that’s not just some rancorous blogger talkin’.

Maybe you didn’t realize that you’re willing to factor more than the rising gas and beer prices into future fishing, birding, or paddling trips across your favorite Texas bay, but that’s what two reports just published by the Houston Advanced Research Center in conjunction with the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi found.

There’s a reason to explore public attitudes. Decreasing amounts of freshwater reaching these estuaries and bays is putting the Texas coast and Gulf in jeopardy. Y’all know full well the abilities of our pauperized state agencies. Or at least if you follow regulators at the TCEQ, you do. So if anyone’s going to save the Coast, it’s you and I … perhaps.

One report opens:

Residents and visitors who were surveyed in the San Antonio Bay and Rio Grande Estuary regions said they would be willing to contribute more than $120 each to protect freshwater inflows there. Extended to the relevant larger populations, these responses suggest that millions of dollars might be donated for ecosystem conservation – more than $4 million for San Antonio Bay and nearly $10 million for the Rio Grande Estuary.

Another survey, focusing only on San Antonio Bay, found that Texas residents who vi-sited that area would be willing to spend about 18 percent more than they actually did spend – $273, as compared to actual travel costs of $231 – to experience the bay’s recreational and natu-ral benefits.

For the uninitiated, these coastal zones where freshwater spills into and mixes with the saline Gulf waters are where our shrimp, oysters, and fisheries live and breed — where all those flaming tropical and neotropical birds drop in exhaustion after crossing the equator and expanse of wet. But apart from obvious motivations to protect this natural beauty and productivity from the overuse of freshwater by upstream cities and fields, there are those billions of dollars brought to collective registers from outdoor recreation along our descent into aquatic real estate.

Add to that, the impact of the fisheries on the state ($266 million per year, as of 2003), and you have significant reasons to pay heed to what the Gulf is asking of us. It can be irritating putting natural systems into economic terms, but sometimes it is the only way of communicating with those whose hearts have grown cold on their origins, who move from one human-engineered environment to another along avenues of reassembled rock tarred over.

According to the introduction to the study of the Rio Grande Estuary:

Located on the easternmost part of the Texas-Mexico border near the Gulf of Mexico, the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley (the Valley) lies in one of the most biodiverse regions in all of North America. This fragile ecosystem is facing unprecedented pressure from economic activities in the region. The water needs of the ecosystem are rarely considered as agricultural production, industry and a rapidly growing urban population use all but a trickle of the Rio Grande’s water. A recently completed four-year HARC study of water and sustainable development in the region concluded that, unless water management changes to reflect ecological needs, not enough water will be allocated to sustain the ecosystem, which will continue to deteriorate.

So quantify or die.

The researchers also found that Texas residents who visited the San Antonio Bay region would be willing to spend about 18 percent more than they actually did spend – $273, as compared to actual travel costs of $231 – to experience the bay’s recreational and natural benefits …

“These studies can help policy-makers and all stakeholders to make resource-management decisions that are grounded on sound science,” said David Yoskowitz, economist at the Harte Research Institute.

As much as I’d like to agree, I suspect that it won’t be tourists and nature’s voyeurs that will save the bays. The unanticipated soaring gasoline and food prices are already desuading many from returning to deck. Instead they are seeking out local waterways closer to home.

Salvation will have to come from those upstream: industrial, municipal, agricultural. Water must (finally) come to be prized, protected, and properly valued. When that happens, all of us upstream will watch our drips like hawks. A midday watering will not go unreported. An industrial plant’s use will be under constant public scrutiny.

Check out the collection of reports spanning 2003 through 2008 at Valuing Nature in Texas. Let me know what you think.

On the other side of the world, we find Paradise Drowning. What a few degrees and a few more centimeters (of sea level rise) can do.

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Don’t forget to check out another perspective on the future political and humanitarian consequences of failing to check climate change. Scan’s NRDC’s OnEarth cover story this month: The Gathering Storm. Um, “long-range apocalypse”?

For you nuke watchers…

Dear Kingsville, you are officially back in the heart of the storm of “low-cost production potential.” Sounds like safety will continue to be job one for URI.

From New Mexico Biz Weekly:

Uranium Resources Inc. announced June 26 that it terminated its agreement to purchase Rio Algom Mining LLC.

Texas-based URI struck a deal with Rio Algom’s parent firm, BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE: BHP), in October 2007 to acquire 100 percent ownership of Rio Algom by June 2008 for about $126.5 million.

Under the agreement, URI would have acquired a uranium mill site and associated water rights, plus 14,000 acres of surface fee land and mineral interests, in New Mexico’s Ambrosia Lake District 20 miles south of Grants.

The mill site, which Rio Algom operated until 2002, is already licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, allowing URI to substantially cut the time needed to build a new mill and begin operations.

URI canceled the agreement, however, because of difficulty in raising funds, said URI President and CEO David Clark in a news release.

“We believe this is the best decision for the company and our shareholders given current market conditions that have prevented us from securing the $180 million needed to finance the acquisition,” Clark said. For now, we will concentrate our efforts on rebuilding our low-cost production potential in Texas while continuing to develop our resources in New Mexico.”

More on Texas bays and freshwater inflow from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Water Development Board.

Maps above are courtesy of HARC & HRI.

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