An institutional and legal assessment of an instream aeration project in the Houston Ship Channel
The rapid growth and development of the Houston area has placed enormous burdens on the Houston Ship Channel to assimilate pollutants and avoid environmental damage. Once a meandering tidal bayou, the inner reaches of the channel have now been dredged to a width of 300 to 400 feet, with a depth of 40 feet to allow the passage of ocean-going vessels. During the last fifty years an explosive growth in the population of the Houston area coupled with the arrival of numerous heavy industries placed heavy strains on wastewater treatment facilities discharging into the channel. By the mid-1960s water quality in the Ship Channel had deteriorated to the point where federal and subsequently state water quality agencies were forced to mandate increased levels of treatment for wastewater discharges. In recent years continued population growth has led to point and non-point source loading which even advanced wastewater treatment techniques cannot mititgate. Therefore, an alternative method of maintaining dissolved oxygen levels, instream aeration, is now receiving serious consideration. Previous studies have been conducted on the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay for almost twenty years. All have verified the need for additional water quality improvement measures. Furthermore, many have identified instream aeration as a viable alternative to more sophisticated and expensive treatment systems. Other studies commissioned at the same time are investigating the technical and economic feasibility of instream aeration and the extent of non-point source loading into the channel. The focus of this study is how can the legal, administrative and economic issues associated with an instream aeration project be resolved.