Water quality experts spoke to Port Lavaca residents last Thursday at the Bauer Exhibit Building about the quality studies on the bays, including Lavaca Bay.

The Lavaca Bay Foundation invited two members of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies as the group’s latest guest speakers.

Michael Wetz, the chairman of coastal ecosystem processes at the institute, was the first guest speaker at the meeting. He studies the water quality in the Texas bays on the Gulf Coast.

The presentation explained the studies of the water quality in the bays and the indicators that cause these changes.

“A lot of our work has centered on trying to figure out where we might have water quality issues on the Texas coast and what are those issues and then ultimately what we can do about it,” Wetz said.

Wetz added they found issues related to increased salinity in some of the bays.

Other issues Wetz pointed out in his presentation are fecal bacteria and some areas with too much nitrogen and phosphorus that causes algal blooms.

One of the bays Wetz used as an example was Baffin Bay, which he said has some challenges “in terms of too much nitrogen and phosphorus,” which triggers algal growth.

“It causes the growth of a type of algae that’s really bad for the ecosystem and turns the water like chocolate milk, and it kills the seagrasses, and it’s not good for the fisheries,” Wetz said.

Wetz said he has been working with a group of scientists since 2013 to figure out the problems that are causing these issues in the bays.

“We have been fortunate. We now have years of data that we’ve been able to figure out what the problems are, and now we’re trying to work with stakeholders to figure out how we solve these problems,” Wetz said.

Wetz said Lavaca Bay doesn’t have these problems yet, but there are indicators of them.

One of the other highlights from the meeting was the development of the Texas Coast Ecosystem Health report card.

Amie West, a postdoctoral research associate at Heart Research Institute, explained how the bays are being graded in the report card.

“We’re looking at the wider Texas coast, and we’re also looking at a specific base,” West said.

West added they are looking at how social-ecological systems are working together, what is happening to the bays, their changes, and how healthy the bay systems are.

This report card is an extension from a report that was done in 2019, West said, and she added this one is going be to be similar to the 2019 report, but with social-ecological indicators included.

The Texas Mid Coast received a B grading, according to West.

“We’re still forming what indicators will go into that, but we’re looking at indicators for social and ecological system vulnerability. We’re looking at water quality, habitats, and species,” West said.

West talked about gathering together the indicators, the stakeholders, and the support of the health ecosystem.

West said it is important to get the science and the stakeholders on the same page.

Bringing the stakeholders and the science together creates a “cohesive understanding” of what is going on in the ecosystem of the bay, West added, and what information they need.

West said they are looking into doing a report card every two years.

Janet Weaver, vice president of the LBF, said there was a lot of great information from the presentation and how water quality is one of the things to be concerned about.

Weaver hopes to have LBF get involved more with the bay report card program.

“Can you imagine if the citizens got together and collected data and have it analyzed so that we can really understand the health of Lavaca Bay?” Weaver asked.

Weaver was glad that there are “quality scientists” that are willing to come to study Lavaca Bay and give information about it.

“By knowing more they can help keep the bay healthy,” she added.