State of the Beach/State Reports/TX/Shoreline Structures
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Texas has a policy that limits the use of shoreline structures along the Gulf of Mexico. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Department of Transportation have the authority to construct seawalls, revetment walls, and other shoreline structures to protect shipping lanes and inter-coastal waterways. Texas law (31 TAC §15.6(c)) states that local governments may not issue permits or certificates authorizing erosion response structures except retaining walls (defined as "a structure designed to contain, or which primarily contains, material or prevents sliding of land"). Texas allows retaining walls under the condition that they are not within 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation. No new shoreline structures are allowed on beach/dune systems.
Texas law also states that local governments may not issue a permit or certificate authorizing repair of an existing erosion response structure on the public beach. Local governments may not authorize the enlargement or improvement of an existing erosion response structure within 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation. Also, local governments may not issue permits or certificate authorizing the maintenance or repair of erosion response structures within 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation that are more than 50% damaged, except when failure to do so would result in an unreasonable hazard to public infrastructure or an unreasonable flood hazard to homes.
Laws, regulations and policies relating to shoreline structures in Texas include:
- Texas Open Beaches Act and Texas Natural Resources Code § 61.022 as referenced in the Act, and NOAA guidance for Coastal Management Program (CMP) grants prohibits funding of hard structures for CMP grants.
- The Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act (CEPRA) prohibits funding of hard structures on Gulf of Mexico beaches.
- Dune Protection Act
- General Land Office Beach and Dune Rules
- Local government dune protection and beach access plans
- Title 31, Chap. 155, Texas Administrative Code
Texas General Land Office Beach and Dune Rules prohibit the use of erosion response structures in accordance with the Open Beaches Act.
Texas Admin Code Title 31.1.15A §15.6:
(c) Prohibition of erosion response structures. Local governments shall not issue a permit or certificate allowing construction of an erosion response structure. Notwithstanding the general prohibition on constructing erosion response structures, a local government may authorize the construction of a structural shore protection project that conforms with the policies of the Coastal Coordination Council promulgated in 31 TAC §501.14(k)(2). However, a local government may issue a permit or certificate authorizing construction of a retaining wall, as defined in §15.2 of this title (relating to Definitions), under the following conditions. These conditions only apply to the construction of a retaining wall; all other erosion response structures are prohibited.
- (1) A local government shall not issue a permit authorizing the construction of a retaining wall within the area 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation.
- (2) A local government may issue a permit authorizing construction of a retaining wall in the area more than 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation.
(d) Existing erosion response structures. In no event shall local governments issue permits or certificates authorizing maintenance or repair of an existing erosion response structure on the public beach or the enlargement or improvement of the structure within 200 feet landward of the natural vegetation line. Notwithstanding the general prohibition on maintaining or repairing erosion response structures, a local government may authorize the maintenance or repair of a structural shore protection project that conforms with the policies of the Coastal Coordination Council promulgated in 31 TAC §501.14(k)(2). Also within 200 feet landward of the natural vegetation line, local governments shall not issue a permit or certificate allowing any person to maintain or repair an existing erosion response structure if the structure is more than 50% damaged, except under the following circumstances.
- (1) When failure to repair the structure will cause unreasonable hazard to a public building, public road, public water supply, public sewer system, or other public facility immediately landward of the structure.
- (2) When failure to repair the structure will cause unreasonable flood hazard to habitable structures because adjacent erosion response structures will channel floodwaters to the habitable structure.
Basically, the above section does not allow shoreline structures 200 feet landward of the line of vegetation unless the project is sponsored by a county or municipality. Individual property owners or groups of property owners cannot build shoreline structures independently. This ties the rules to the Open Beach Act, which does not prohibit the government from building shoreline structures to protect the shore.
Texas Open Beach Act
The Texas Open Beach Act (Texas Natural Resources Code § 61.013) regarding access to coastal beaches states these prohibitions:
(a) It is an offense against the public policy of this state for any person to create, erect, or construct any obstruction, barrier, or restraint that will interfere with the free and unrestricted right of the public, individually and collectively, lawfully and legally to enter or to leave any public beach or to use any public beach or any larger area abutting on or contiguous to a public beach if the public has acquired a right of use or easement to or over the area by prescription, dedication, or has retained a right by virtue of continuous right in the public.
(b) Unless properly certified as consistent with this subchapter, no person may cause, engage in, or allow construction landward of and adjacent to a public beach within the area described in Section 61.011(d)(6) of this code in a manner that will or is likely to affect adversely public access to and use of the public beach. The prohibition in this subsection takes effect only on adoption of final rules by the commissioner under Section 61.011 of this code.
The Texas Open Beach Act (Texas Natural Resources Code § 61.017c1) states in an area of public beach where a seawall structure constructed in its entirety as a single structure of one design before 1970 and continuously maintained with a height of not less than 11 feet above mean low tide interrupts the natural line of vegetation for a distance not less than 4,000 feet nor greater than 4,500 feet, the line of vegetation is along he seaward side of the seawall for the distance marked by the seawall.
Policies for Construction in the Beach/Dune System
31 TAC Section 501.26 (b) discusses the rules for construction of shoreline structures (including geotextile shoreline structures) in critical dune areas or areas adjacent to or on the Gulf Beaches. Shoreline structures are only allowed to protect community developments, public infrastructure, and for other lawful public purposes and shall NOT be used solely to protect individual structures or properties. A community development may include a neighborhood or aggregation of homes or commercial structures.
31 TAC Section 501.26 (a) (5) encourages the use of non-structural erosion response methods such as beach nourishment, sediment bypassing, nearshore sediment berms, and planting of vegetation.
31 TAC Section 501.26 (b) (5) states that the shoreline structures should not adversely affect sea turtle nesting areas or endangered species.
Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act
The Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act (CEPRA) requires erosion control projects that give preference to “soft” methods to manage erosion in lieu of hard structures and does not authorize the construction or funding of hard structures on or landward of a public beach.
The Dunes Act (Title 2, Chapter 63) protects sand dunes from any damage, destruction or removal of sand. This may be applicable to the construction of some shoreline structures.
NOAA guidance for CMP grants generally prohibit funding of hard structures except in deteriorating and underutilized urban waterfronts and ports. CEPRA prohibits funding of hard structures on Gulf of Mexico beaches, but allows hard structures in bay shore locations. Emergency permits are allowed under TNR Code §61.022. CEPRA statute and adopted rules favor "soft" erosion response methodologies such as beach fill.
For information regarding geo-textile tubes, see Evaluation and Recommendations for Using Geotextile Tubes for Shore Protection in Texas.
All geotextile tubes sponsored by the local governments on Galveston Island were removed following Hurricane Ike.
Texas does not have a statewide inventory of shoreline structures. CMP staff believes that an inventory would be useful to aid in studying the effectiveness and impacts of structural versus non-structural erosion response strategies.
CMP staff estimate that 5.7% or 21 miles of the open ocean coastline in Texas is armored.
University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology mapped the shoreline structures, including rip rap structures and bulkheads for Bolivar Peninsula and Jefferson County areas for the Texas Shoreline Change Project. An online ArcIMS (Internet Map Server) is available to create maps of shoreline structures for these areas.
No new seawalls or revetments are being permitted but geotextile shoreline structures (enormous sand bags) are permitted.
Texas announced in September 2009 that it was embarking on the biggest coastal protection effort in state history to attempt to fight beach erosion and defend against future hurricanes. The $135.4 million plan comes one year after Hurricane Ike damaged thousands of homes in Galveston, the neighboring Bolivar Peninsula and other communities across southeast Texas. The Sept. 13, 2008 hurricane also scoured away beaches, submerged marshes in seawater and ruined thousands of acres of vegetation.
Work was scheduled to begin immediately on 26 projects from South Padre Island in South Texas to McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge on the upper Texas Coast. The projects include a $1 million test project in South Padre Island that will place low profile stabilizers, or concrete filled tubes, underwater in beaches on the north end. The stabilizers are designed to slow down erosion by retaining sand usually lost to waves and currents.
A series of seasonal tidal events punctuated by Hurricane Ida eroded away the last remnants of Surfside Beach while exposing long-buried debris and making the beachbreak an extremely dangerous area. The Village of Surfside and the Texas General Land Office initiated a Shoreline Stabilization Project that repaired and "enhanced" a revetment structure.
Although dated, the 1983 text Living with the Texas Shore provides some information on the extent of armoring of the Texas shoreline. In places such as Galveston and South Padre Island, large seawalls and small retaining walls line the shoreline. Information supplied by the GLO states that of the 367 miles of Gulf shoreline, the only seawalls are in Galveston (10 miles) and North Padre Island (1 mile), a retaining wall in South Padre Island (2.5 miles), and a revetment wall at Sargent Beach (8 miles).
In an attempt to minimize the effects of housing developments within the dune system, the State of Texas does not allow individual property owners to build erosion control devices or structures on their Gulf-fronting property.
Summaries of Erosion Control Projects provided by the CMP provide descriptions of projects involving a range of shoreline structures that includes rock revetments, sheet-pile bulkheads, groins, and breakwaters. These "hard" options are typically only used for bay shore erosion, whereas "softer" solutions, including beach fill, dune restoration and geo-textile tubes are used to address Gulf beach erosion.
A May 2000 article in the Texas A&M Aggie Daily reports on the efforts of Texas A&M University at Galveston professor Jim Webb, who is working with Galveston County officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on a $600,000 project to stop coastal erosion. Webb is using specially designed geo-textile tubes that are about 15 feet wide and 7 feet high. Each is buried two feet deep, with tons of coastal sand pumped inside the tube to stabilize and secure it. On top of it, Webb supervises the planting of several types of vegetation. Each species has proven to be an effective ground cover in stopping or at least dramatically slowing coastal erosion. About 8,600 feet of geo-textile tubes filled with sand have been placed at Pirates Beach and adjacent areas, Webb says. "If the geo-textile tubes remain intact during a hurricane or tropical storm, erosion of land behind the tube will be prevented." Many of the homes there - most are in the $300,000 to $400,000 range - have come dangerously close to having the Gulf of Mexico greet them at their front door because of erosion. Coastal erosion has been a serious problem along the Texas coast for decades. Since 1961, Webb says, about 100 feet of the shoreline along Galveston Island has been lost to erosion. "A recent government estimate shows that between 300 to 600 feet of additional erosion is possible in the next 25 years," says Webb, who has about 25 years experience in sand dune restoration. "That's why it's important that we find ways to create barriers to stop the wave erosion. It's a big problem now, but it could be a devastating problem in just a few years."
US Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District Projects, including the mouth of the Colorado River, are discussed on the USACE Galveston District Website. This article provides information on beach nourishment and repair of the Galveston Seawall following damage caused by Hurricane Ike. More on the weir jetties at the mouth of the Colorado River.
The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.
Beach/Dune Team Leader
Planning, Permitting & Technical Services
Texas General Land Office
Phone: (512) 936-1958
Planning, Permitting & Technical Services
Texas General Land Office
Phone: (512) 463-8664
Perception of Effectiveness
With the Texas coast eroding up to 30 feet per year, many landowners want structures built (breakwaters, groins, jetties, geo-textile tubes) to protect their private property. Although the GLO has a "no hard structures" policy, cities and counties are concerned by the erosion and are trying to change the Texas Open Beaches Act and GLO rules in order to prevent further property loss. Property owners are also marshaling their forces to weaken the Texas Open Beaches Act and allow bulkheads and seawalls to be built to allow landowners to "reclaim" eroded beach land.
On the other hand, there have been cases where the state has required removal of coastal armoring, e.g., relict bulkheads that became situated on the public beach.
Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability has published a 198-page Atlas of Sustainable Strategies for Galveston Island. The report includes a discussion of seawalls and other "control structures" that states:
"Constructed after the 1900 Storm, the 17 foot high Galveston Seawall epitomizes modern attempts to arrest the dynamics of natural processes. The seawall is literally and conceptually a line in the sand that attempts to delineate natural forces (coastal ecology, storms, erosion) and human representations (tourism, landscape, branding, historicism). In a broader sense, the seawall is the most emblematic of the many infrastructures that alter coastal systems for human use, from jetties, dredging, harbors, to canals and pipelines.
The protection afforded by the seawall has come at the cost of the quality of its waterfront, now Galveston’s key economic resource. Similarly, the high-speed road atop the seawall provides efficient traffic flow but further separates the city from the sea, contributing to relatively low land value such that big box stores and parking lots line the waterfront. Moreover, because the shoreline has nowhere to retreat, the beach must be artificially nourished on a regular basis, in part because the beach is a key economic and social amenity but also because it prevents the seawall’s foundations from being undermined. Secondary control structures, such as groins, have been constructed to slow the rate of sand erosion. Nonetheless the seawall beach does not perform ecologically and is not sustainable. The seawall thus protects the city during brief storm events but is a detriment to everyday human and nonhuman use the vast majority of the time.
Moreover, as seen with the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, when such infrastructures fail the effects are typically catastrophic. Private seawalls and other smaller structures such as geotubes are futile efforts to arrest shoreline retreat and protect private land. While many of these fail immediately others slow erosion at the site of intervention only to accelerate neighboring land loss. Because these structures operate within an extremely dynamic and interdependent environment, smaller structures at best shift forces to another site while massive structures like the seawall and jetties often tip delicate balances and arrest beneficial processes, often accelerating wetland loss, beach and dune erosion and damaging other natural edges that offer significant buffers against storm forces. Nowhere is this more apparent than farther east along the Gulf Coast, where extremely rapid erosion at the mouth of the Mississippi is occurring mainly from anthropogenic factors, including the infrastructure designed to control the river flow. Is this a paradigm of control we want to continue?
Currently, subsidence and rising sea levels are shortening the seawall’s projected lifespan. The last easily accessible sand has been used to replenish the beach front after Hurricane Ike, making future nourishments far more expensive and difficult. The city’s future is now poised on rethinking the future of this edge and whether it will double-down on top-down mechanisms of control. After Hurricane Ike, proposals have been put forward to construct even more massive dikes, levees and seawalls. Such structures require massive initial capital outlay, ecological destruction and immense ongoing maintenance costs while doing little to address the larger interdependencies of economic and environmental vitality in the area. Such resources could be better spent seeking alternative strategies integrated into the urban and ecological qualities of the area."
The report Severe Beach Erosion at Surfside, Texas Caused by Engineering Modifications to the Coast and Rivers (February, 2003) provides several examples of negative effects of hardening the coast and interrupting the natural transport of sand along the coast.
Commissioner Jerry Patterson issued moratorium orders for 116 houses on the public beach on June 8, 2004. The moratorium prohibited state and local officials from taking legal action to remove the homes, which were seaward of the vegetation line that marks the boundary of the public beach. The vegetation line was to be re-evaluated after two years to see if the homes need to be removed. More on beachfront construction.
Public Education Program
The Dune Protection and Improvement Manual describes simple, low-cost methods that public and private property owners can use to preserve, repair, and enhance sand dunes. It summarizes laws and regulations that may apply to dune improvement projects. The manual also includes sources of further information and technical help.
The state also utilizes brochures, maps, presentations, periodic regional seminars and other information on the GLO website to educate the public about erosion issues and erosion response. Specific activities include GLO’s Coastal Erosion Conference (held every two years), Coastal Texas 2020 initiative, and support of other conferences. Texas General Land Office sponsors events such as the Coastal Issues Conference and erosion workshops and also supports the Texas Shore and Beach Association, which has periodic conferences on erosion and beach fill. CEPRA program staff present papers and poster sessions at national conferences, including American Shore and Beach Association annual meetings.
The Texas High School Coastal Monitoring Program engages people who live along the coast in the study of their natural environment. High school students, teachers, and scientists work together to gain a better understanding of dune and beach dynamics on the Texas coast. Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin provide the tools and training needed for scientific investigation. Students and teachers learn how to measure the topography, map the vegetation line and shoreline, and observe weather and wave conditions. By participating in an actual research project, the students obtain an enhanced science education. Furthermore, public awareness of coastal processes and the Coastal Management Program is heightened through this program. The students’ efforts also provide coastal communities with valuable data on their changing shoreline.
GLO Publications and Educational Materials
Coastal Texas 2020 is a long-term, statewide initiative, begun in June of 2003, created to unite local, state and federal efforts to promote the economic and environmental health of the Texas coast. The coast was divided into five regions that include the 18 coastal counties comprising Texas' coastal zone. This page contains documents and reports that support Coastal Texas 2020 and its recommendations.
Education and Outreach Contact
Office of Communications
Texas General Land Office
Phone: (512) 463-7497
- Tammy Brooks, Program Specialist, TCMP. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response. January 27, 2003.
- Jeb Boyt, Coordinator, TCMP. Written correspondence. February 22, 2002.
- Written correspondence from Sally S. Davenport, past TCMP Director, GLO. August 9, 2000.
- Texas Surfrider
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