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The view from Palacios: Takeaways from an environmental gathering on Matagorda Bay

Palacios, Texas is a town defined by water. Located on Tres Palacios Bay (a major sub-bay of the Matagorda Bay system) the town is the self-proclaimed “Shrimp Capital of Texas” and hosts the largest shrimping fleet on the Texas coast. The incredibly diverse bird life of the area is another claim to fame. A rich mix of shorebirds and migratory species make the Palacios area one of the best bird watching sites in North America.

On a cool autumn day this past October, a large group of environmentalists, outdoors enthusiasts, local residents and community leaders gathered in the new waterfront pavilion in Palacios to discuss threats to Matagorda Bay. These folks had been invited by the Trull Foundation, a locally-based foundation that funds efforts to protect the environment of the Texas coast (among many other causes). The program for the day was organized by the Texas Living Waters Project and focused on the critical connection between the health of the bay and the fresh water flowing into the bay from the Colorado River and other sources.

Matagorda Bay is sometimes described as Texas’s “forgotten bay” and several of the attendees bemoaned that fact. However, judging from the lively conversation in the room and the enthusiasm of those present, it was immediately clear that Matagorda Bay is beloved by many. Keynote speaker Bill Balboa, who had just accepted the first professional position of the new Matagorda Bay Foundation, described falling in love with the area and its abundant wildlife – a sentiment expressed by many, including natives to the area and those who had moved to Palacios from major cities like Austin and Houston.

The Texas Living Waters Project’s Myron Hess kicked off a series of presentations that focused on the dependence of the bay’s wildlife on freshwater inflows (these included a unique show-and-tell presentation that featured local wildlife presented by Leslie Hartman, the Matagorda Bay Ecosystem Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department). Following the presentations, the participants spent time assessing the challenges faced by the region. Starting with their individual thoughts about the challenges facing Matagorda Bay and the Colorado River basin, the group also called out opportunities for action and collaboration.

Opportunities for action

The concerns expressed about the challenges facing the bay were diverse. However, the issues that rose to the top were inadequate freshwater inflows, upstream development (that reduces the fresh water available for the river and bay) and watershed pollution.

Education topped the ideas listed as an “opportunity for action.” People expressed the need for enhanced school-based curriculums that illustrate the connections between individual water use and the impacts of human over-consumption of water on wildlife. Others spoke to the need for education and outreach to the general public, as well as the need for an over-arching conservation strategy for the bay. Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald called out the need for partnerships with hunting and fishing organizations to build a “great bay” policy agenda.

Collaborating for Matagorda Bay

Not surprisingly, given the many interests represented by the participants, Judge McDonald was not alone in expressing a desire for more active collaboration. When it came to the best strategies for focusing our collective resources and time, education once again was a top priority. Others spoke out about the need to engage the ranching and agricultural communities in speeding the adoption of grazing practices that improve soil conditions so that soil is better able to filter pollutants, hold rainfall and mitigate flooding. And, finally, many people advocated for forging new relationships with recreational fishing groups, business interests, churches and birding / wildlife enthusiasts.

The big takeaway of the day was that those who care about the future of Matagorda Bay are not alone. A large and diverse group of organizations and individuals recognize the tremendous value of the bay and its estuaries, the lower Colorado River and the people who call the bay home. Our thanks to the Trull Foundation for their support and for the rich opportunity of learning from each other.

Tom Spencer

Program director at National Wildlife Federation
Tom has a public service career spanning over 35 years. Tom is passionate about the outdoors and expresses his love of nature through photography, writing and gardening. He also hosts the Emmy Award winning gardening program “Central Texas Gardener.”
Tom Spencer

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