Why Is Galveston Water Brown – And Does It Affect My Tap Water?

If you have traveled to Galveston for the first time and expected to see crystal clear or blue waters you often think about in many Gulf of Mexico photos, you were probably disappointed. Galveston’s water is usually brown. But there’s a reason for it — and does this effect have any bearing on your tap water?

There are a handful of prevailing theories as to why Galveston’s water is typically a murky, turbid color of brown, and they typically center around oyster dredging, sediment discharge from the Mississippi River Delta and natural turbidity caused by sand and silt prohibiting sunlight to reach plants at the bottom of the bay.

Theory #1: Oyster Dredging

The Texas oyster industry is big, and no other place was it larger than Galveston over the past half-century. It culminated in a record 6.13 million pounds of oysters being harvested in Galveston Bay in 1999. This accounted for 95 percent of the state’s total oyster output for that year.

The drawbacks of oyster harvesting are environmental in nature. Oysters are natural filter feeders. They trap sediments and contaminants, allowing aquatic life to flourish and the water to appear more “clear” or blue in nature.

In 1999, a high-water mark for the industry, fishermen harvested 6.13 million pounds of oysters, not including shells, in Galveston Bay, about 95 percent of the 6.4 million pounds harvested in Texas that year.

Theory #2: The Cycle of Turbidity

Picture of Galveston Bay and its brown water

While the industry has dipped since then and steps have been taken to revitalize the area, the cycle of turbidity will likely continue for years to come. It is called a “cycle” because the nature of hazy water inherently blocks sunlight from the bottom of the waterbed, thus prohibiting plants and wildlife at the bottom from achieving the best level of growth, development, and production in helping to clean the waters they live in.

Theory #3: The Mississippi Delta

Another theory that has been cited is the massive runoff of sediment, including sand and silt, created by the nearby Mississippi River Delta that feeds into Galveston Bay, which is more shallow than the likes of the coastlines that border nearby Florida, which is infamous for it’s blue water.

The Comeback: Galveston’s Water Is Blue?

In 2018 Galveston produced a sight for sore eyes when it welcomed vacationers with blue waters for the first time since likely the internet was ever a thing. The reason? Some scientists think wind patterns pushed the river plume East, keeping the sediment away. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. But every now and again, it resurfaces.

Is Galveston Tap Water Safe To Drink?

Since September 2001, Galveston has gotten its water supply from the Thomas A. Mackey Water Treatment Plant in Texas City. The Gulf Coast Water Authority gets hundreds of gallons per day from the Brazos River. It travels through 150 miles of canals across Fort Bend, Brazoria and Galveston County to the reservoir in Texas City.

According to the 2020 Galveston Texas water report, the water was at the action level (but not above) of copper at 1.3 parts per million caused by erosion of natural deposits, leading from wood preservatives, and corrosion of household plumbing systems.

It also contained an elevated amount of TTHM, a disinfection byproduct. The average level was 46.20, the maximum level was 74.40. The Maximum Contaminant Level as outlined by the EPA is 80 parts per billion. Last year during Texas’s brutal winter, Galveston was under a boil water notice for a long portion of the winter. Measures are being taken to improve the situation

And while Galveston’s beaches are typically safe for swimming, it’s always worth a double-check.


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