Dredging the
Ship Channel

Expanding the Houston Ship Channel is critical to safely and efficiently sustaining national energy security, domestic manufacturing growth, thriving U.S. exports, and expanding job opportunities.

The Houston Ship Channel is a manmade port that requires continuous dredging throughout the year, even when the channel is not being expanded. This helps to regularly maintain the depth of navigation channels to ensure the safe passage of barges and ships.

In addition to regular maintenance, dredging is also performed during Houston Ship Channel Expansion efforts, like Project 11. When complete, the expansion will widen the channel by 170 feet along its Galveston Bay reach, from 530 feet to 700 feet. It will also deepen some upstream segments to 46.5 feet, make other safety and efficiency improvements, and create new environmental features.

Frequently Asked Questions

Port Houston has prioritized making sustainable choices, as evidenced by our use for Project 11 of the cleanest available dredges capable of completing construction and the fact that nearly 100% of the non-silt material dredged from the Galveston Bay portion of the project will be beneficially used to create and enhance local habitat. In total, Port Houston and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will use most of the dredged material from Project 11 – more than 17 million cubic yards – to create 800 acres of marsh, 324 acres of replacement oyster reef pads, and 10 acres of bird islands. Once the project is complete over the next few years, regional air quality is also projected to improve, due to a reduction in vessel nitrous oxide emissions of up to 7%, because of increased vessel efficiency and reduced congestion.

The materials to be dredged for construction of Project 11 in the vicinity of the Pleasantville, Channelview, Galena Park, and Port Houston neighborhoods are predominantly native (never-dredged or in-situ) clay soils, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has sampled and analyzed, following the guidelines and protocols described below, to confirm they are proper for placement in confined upland disposal facilities, and that any runoff or effluent maintains Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) surface water quality standards.

Over the past three decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed a series of framework documents, guidelines, manuals, and agreements to confirm dredged materials that are placed at inland placement areas are safe and environmentally sound:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ evaluations of environmentally acceptable alternatives for placement of dredged material are governed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers document Evaluating Environmental Effects of Dredged Material Management Alternatives – A Technical Framework (May 2004).
  • Sediment testing to inform proper and environmentally acceptable dredged material placement is governed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines for Specification of Disposal Sites for Dredged or Fill Material, 40 C.F.R. Part 230, including the general evaluation guidelines of 40 C.F.R. § 230.60, and the guidelines for chemical, biological, physical evaluation, and testing at 40 C.F.R. § 230.61.
  • Testing protocols are provided in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Evaluation of Dredged Material Proposed for Disposal at Island, Nearshore, or Upland Confined Disposal Facilities – Testing Manual (Upland Testing Manual) (January 2003).

The screening criteria applied under these manuals and agreements are a combination of marine sediment screening guidelines from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Region 6 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Associated results are screened with water quality guidelines from the TCEQ’s surface water quality standards and marine screening water quality guidelines from NOAA and Region 6 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All sampling and analysis for the Project 11 dredged materials to be placed at these upland placement areas followed these guidance documents and plans for the Project 11 Feasibility Report-Environmental Impact Statement, and Dredged Material Management Plan. During the design phase, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed site-specific modeling and analysis refinements in February 2021 for the Clinton placement area, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concurred with its findings that the analysis provides reasonable assurance that water from the placement area would comply with water quality standards. Additional analysis is currently underway for the Glendale and Filterbed placement areas using site-specific parameters.

Although it does not govern Federal dredged material placement, the TCEQ’s Texas Risk Reduction Program’s Tier 1 Protective Concentration Limits for contaminants in residential soils provides a useful point of reference. The sediment testing results do not show that any of the new work dredged material planned for placement at the Glendale, Filterbed, or Clinton placement areas exceed the TCEQ program’s Tier 1 Protective Concentration Limits for contaminants in residential soils – its most restrictive standard.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviewed Project 11’s Draft Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, including the Environmental Justice analysis. On November 16, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6’s Chief of the Specials Projects Division of its Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Division wrote that the agency had rated the Draft Environmental Impact Statement “Lack of Objections,” its highest rating, and that the Environmental Impact Statement had sufficiently demonstrated that environmental impacts from the selected plan can be “mitigated, minimized and/or avoided altogether as required by law.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also reviewed Project 11’s Final Feasibility Report and Environmental, and on March 4, 2020, Region 6’s Director of its Office of Communities, Tribes and Environmental Assessment wrote that the agency had commented on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and had no objections to the project, and that after reviewing the Final Environmental Impact Statement, EPA had no additional comments.

Project 11 is widening the Houston Ship Channel, which will improve safety for the nearly 20,000 ships and 150,000+ barges transiting the Ship Channel per year at the nation’s busiest port by tonnage.

The Glendale and Filterbed sites are at the end of their useful life as dredge placement areas. The plan to use clean, new-work clay dredged from Project 11 to close the Glendale and Filterbed placement areas in and near Pleasantville was proposed by members of the local community and by Federal and state resource agencies on the Houston Galveston Navigation Channel Beneficial Uses Group.Port Houston supports final designs for Glendale and Filterbed that effectively protect the safety and environment of these areas, cover with a layer of native soil and vegetation, and provide benefits for the communities in the vicinity of these former placement areas.  We want to work with our communities and our state and Federal partners to explore opportunities for closing and converting the Glendale and Filterbed placement areas into parks, green spaces, or other community assets after construction of the Houston Ship Channel is complete.

Port Houston consistently invests in our neighboring communities’ students, schools, parks, and community groups, and we want to see Pleasantville, Galena Park, the Port Houston neighborhood, Channelview, and Pasadena thrive and prosper.  Port Houston’s work to support and improve the communities around the Houston Ship Channel includes our Community Grants Program, which focuses on investing resources into meaningful projects and programs in our area. Since the program’s inception in 2020, we have awarded $1.25 million to initiatives related to economic and workforce development, pollution reduction, and health equity and health disparities programs. In addition, in 2022 we allocated $2 million for a three-year parks and green space program, which includes projects like walking trail improvements and spark parks.

Port Houston has also announced a goal to become carbon neutral by the year 2050, and we are actively pursuing that milestone, which will benefit air quality for area residents and reduce global carbon pollution. Port Houston was the first port authority in the United States to be certified by the International Organization for Standardization under ISO 14001 for environmental performance. Meeting these rigorous standards since 2002 is a testament to our longstanding commitment to environmental responsibility.