April 08, 2009
The Ike Dike

This certainly sounds like a promising idea.

Protecting the region from a hurricane's storm surge, says William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston, is simple: Extend Galveston's seawall to the island's West End, build a similar structure along Bolivar Peninsula and construct massive Dutch-like floodgates at the entry to Galveston Bay.

Merrell's "Ike Dike" idea, which would cost at least $2 billion not including land acquisition expenses, has gained momentum in recent weeks.

Gov. Rick Perry's post-Ike Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal reviewed the concept and unanimously recommended that the state fund a feasibility study to look at flood control efforts along the entire Texas coast.

"When I first heard about it, I thought it was a pretty outlandish project, but the more I've thought about it, the more I think we need to look into something like this," said Bill King, a former mayor of Kemah who is a member of the Ike commission.

"The benefits are obvious. To protect the entire Gulf Coast from a storm surge would be an incredible benefit."


The upfront cost may seem high, but storm surge damages caused by Ike along the upper Texas coast may have exceeded $10 billion, and that was for a hurricane that came in too far north to cause maximum damage to Galveston Island and heavily populated communities along western Galveston Bay.

Compared to the cost of an actual hurricane, as we have so clearly seen, this is downright cheap. Even if the $2 billion estimate is off by a factor of ten, this would be a worthwhile investment. A feasibility study would be a few million bucks, and that's a no-brainer. The only question there is what needs to be done to appropriate the money.

Environmentalists familiar with the dike proposal say the large retractable gates it would require on Galveston Bay, as well as smaller ones at San Luis Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway, would inhibit fish migration and raise a host of other potential environmental impacts.

But perhaps even more significantly, said Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney and coastal expert based in Houston, the dike proposal would give carte blanche to developers and businesses to continue building in sensitive areas around Galveston Bay. "I don't personally think this is the solution to this area's incredible vulnerability to hurricanes," Blackburn said.

"But there's a challenge to the environmental community, which may not want to see an Ike Dike, to come up with an alternative that addresses the problem."

Well, yeah. I appreciate the concern, but the potential benefit is very high, and I don't see the worries about developers carrying much weight as a counter-argument. The best bet at this point will be to make sure that future feasibility study takes these kind of costs and their mitigation into effect. More at SciGuy.

On a related note, one preseason hurricane forecast for 2009 has been ticked down a notch, from a guess of 14 named storms to 12. The quieter this season is, and the farther removed we get from Ike, the more complacent we're likely to get. If there's something that should be done, the sooner we do it, the better.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 08, 2009 to Hurricane Katrina

This is a terrible idea. It would mean that there would be no beach between High Island and San Luis Pass.

Also, considering the reach across the bay from the Bolivar Roads to Texas City and up the ship channel to Houston, I'm not sure that it would do anything to protect the bayshore and inland areas.

Posted by: Jeb on April 9, 2009 10:55 AM

I agree with Jeb. Its a horrible idea. The problem with the levies in New Orleans? Not an engineering problem, but a development problem. Homes were built in terrible places for homes because of the bad engineering concept that eventually was going to fail. This will encourage development in dumb places which will result in much more significant damage when an even bigger hurricane hits.

Also, the seawall and its jetties is very destructive to the natural beach systems, to the estuaries and wetlands, and all of the amazing treasure that is Galveston Bay.

As someone whose family beach house was partially destroyed by Ike, I am extremely confused by your excitement over the "potential benefits" of this terrible proposal. All beach house owners should know that the state or a hurricane may someday take your beach house away and that risk is reflected in the cost and your decision to buy or not.

Those who build homes in places that are terrible places to build homes accept that as part of the deal. The state shouldn't pretend to make it okay. Its a horrible perversion of the free market that leads to decades of distortions with drastic environmental and ecological consequences, such as was seen in New Orleans.

Posted by: Jay on April 9, 2009 2:27 PM

Another interesting point is that if this went into effect it would hinder the redevelopment of the City of Gavleston that already has a seawall. I think a regional priority should be rebuilding urban Galveston with a fast rail line to downtown Houston, while leaving as much of the crucial ecosystems that are the long term value of such areas intact. Galveston is built as a beautiful urban place, lets encourage that to fully develop with smart investments that actual residents want.

Posted by: Jay on April 9, 2009 2:36 PM

I should side with Dr. Merrill since I proposed the I-45 tunnel. Read Dr. Merrill's presentation and checked a couple other things and I got to say HUM...

A simple way to check the validity of the Ike Dike would be to include it in the MEOW model.

However, the Ike Dike would do very little to defend the Houston region from hurricane winds. But might reduce the risk of my house flooding due to surge.

Interesting that in the old days folks in the Netherlands built small hills where they found refuge in case of flooding. It was not till later that gates and levees came about.

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on April 12, 2009 1:06 AM

It's naive at best to think extending the seawall (building the Ike Dike) will keep Galveston and/or Bolivar from flooding. Yes, it will protect from wave action, but during Ike Galveston flooded from the back side of the island--because rising water goes where it wants to go.

The Texas City Dike has forever altered the bathymetry and ecology of West Bay and Christmas Bay. It is now more highly saline because it doesn't get freshwater inflows from the rivers that feed Galveston Bay. Water flowing thru San Luis Pass and other passes will cause silt buildup because there won't be the kinds of tidal exchanges we have now. Estuaries need the free flowing exchange of salt water and fresh water to remain productive.

Galveston is not Holland, and comparing the two is worse than comparing apples and oranges. Holland does not get hurricanes, and Holland is not a barrier island or narrow peninsula.

This concept requires much study and a rush to judgment either way, just to build this or keep it from being built, is the wrong approach. It could ruin the environment of Galveston, thereby defeating the hidden purpose of the project--to increase economic growth in a coastal zone. People won't build resorts and vacation homes in an ugly setting devoid of the diversity of wildlife abundant in more natural zones.

Posted by: RL on June 2, 2009 3:59 PM

RL - do some research. The Rotterdam area shares many similarities with Galveston but actually isn't as exposed as Galveston is. And while Holland does not experience hurricanes it does experience large North Sea storms that create huge storm surges. That is what their gates and the Ike Dike protect against.

Most of you that commented think this is bad idea but do not offer an alternative.

As far as environmental concerns I just have to chuckle at that. What hurricanes do is far worse than any impact from this proposal. Throwing that up is like people who want alternative energy sources but don't want that wind farm to kill the birds.

Posted by: KB on June 4, 2009 1:31 PM
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