Ship Channel loses little of its depth to muck
Mud and silt that washed into the Houston Ship Channel during Hurricane Harvey did not make the waterway significantly shallower, a Coast Guard official said Thursday.
The Ship Channel can usually accommodate vessels with drafts of 45 feet. The portion of the channel just below Bayport is accepting vessels with drafts of 42 feet. The official said that is the most significant draft restriction throughout the Ship Channel.
Galveston and Texas City don’t have draft restrictions, and dredging is occurring to restore other sections of the channel to typical operating depth.
“We’re rapidly working to restore full navigability,” said Steve Nerheim, director of the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Services for Houston and Galveston.
Jim Kruse, director of the Center for Ports and Waterways at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said 3 less feet of draft makes a difference. It means that ships can carry several thousand tons less.
Overall, he said, shallowing of the Houston Ship Channel wasn’t as bad as expected. Losing 3 feet of draft would be a bigger deal if the damage were permanent. But the Ship Channel will be deepened again to 45 feet.
“It’s a temporary inconvenience,” Kruse said. “It’s not going to damage Houston’s standing as a port, but it’s going to cost Houston some money until they get it fixed.”
Hurricane Harvey also caused a dry dock to sink in the upper channel. Nerheim said personnel are working to remove it from the waterway. On Wednesday morning, that section was opened to ships. Barges had previously been permitted in that portion.
Mud and silt washed into the Houston Ship Channel during Hurricane Harvey, but the waterway retained most of its depth.