Whether $34 billion or $57 billion,  the Ike Dike is not the solution

Kristen Schlemmer
October 3, 2023

The Army Corps announced last week that the cost estimate for the Ike Dike has risen from $34 to $57 billion. Roughly $20 billion will be paid for by local residents, and these numbers are expected to rise again. As reported last week in the Texas Tribune, Danielle Goshen, policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation, said these ballooning costs put the project at risk of never being built. “This is a huge burden for the five counties that will be asked to vote on increases in property taxes,” said Goshen. “I do believe that we’ll start to see political support for this start to wane.” Read more here.

Wondering more about what alternatives we could pursue as a region? Rather than seek out silver bullets that fall short of their target, our leaders must embrace infrastructure projects and policy changes that will address our region’s combined risks from major storms, industrial pollution, and infrastructure disinvestment. The answers are already in front of us. We must:

  • Work with nature. Stop building homes and businesses within the 100-year floodplain and on coastlines, and preserve and restore large expanses of wetlands, prairies, and coasts. Invest in designed nature-based systems like parks that can take on floodwater and oyster-tecture that buffer storm surges. Natural systems work to protect us from flooding and soak up carbon, while giving us a cleaner environment to enjoy our lives in and a region we can be proud to pass on to future generations. Our local leaders, local developers, and state government all have power to act, and federal funding opportunities will make an unprecedented investment possible.
  • Make industry safer. Adopt safer rules for facilities handling harmful chemicals and enforce violations when these rules aren’t followed. Require these facilities to adapt to withstand Category 4-5 storms. Make industries comply with existing rules, too, and invest in their own climate protections. The federal, state, and local government have the power to act, and organizations like ours can encourage their action through legal strategies.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting rapidly to clean energy sources, like community solar and offshore wind, and investing in public transportation. The Inflation Reduction Act and other recent federal funding bills have opened up unprecedented opportunities to make these investments, and our local and state leaders must not leave any money on the table.
  • View engineered solutions as our last resort. The real lesson from the Dutch is to invest in nature and supplement with dikes, not the other way around. This project depends on largely engineered components because the Army Corps of Engineers was in charge of designing it. More people must be at the drafting table, including landscape designers, urban planners, climate scientists, and community leaders. 
  • Listen to the most impacted communities. Help residents most vulnerable to flooding and storm surges make their homes safer, and move people out of harm’s way if needed. Whether agreeing to invest $2 billion in sanitary sewer infrastructure or $60 million in local ditch maintenance, these government commitments began with community members and organizational partners speaking up about the problems they saw in their neighborhoods and fighting to be heard. We call on leaders at all levels to start with deep listening and ask us: Given $57 billion, what would you to protect our region from climate change?

A plan to protect our coast must embrace this place we call home in all its complexity. It must accept the reality of climate change and the transition that is before us. It must do the hard, creative work of imagining a better future for all of us who live here. Visit our Surge Forward page to learn why the Ike Dike is not the solution.