Welcome to our January edition of HARC news. Each month we include a variety of blogs, featured projects, and researcher updates to provide a look inside HARC.
Watershed Protection Planning in Galveston Bay
HARC wrote previously about watershed protection planning in Texas and the ways in which watershed protection planning restores and protects water quality in the Houston-Galveston Region. One of the projects highlighted in that article was the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan, an effort in which HARC is coordinating with local stakeholders to develop a watershed protection plan for the Double Bayou Watershed in Liberty and Chambers counties, on the Eastern shore of Galveston Bay.
HARC is pleased to announce that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed and accepted the stakeholder-approved Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan as meeting the agency’s guidelines for watershed-based plans. The Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan describes voluntary implementation strategies to reduce non-point source pollution in the watershed.
A watershed protection planning effort was undertaken because Double Bayou was listed as impaired (not meeting water quality standards) by the State of Texas due to low dissolved oxygen levels and elevated concentrations of bacteria in the waterway. In an effort to protect the bayou, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), HARC, the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, the United States Geological Survey, and Shead Conservation Solutions partnered with local landowners to develop a plan to address the impairments.
The partners worked together to assess the water quality problems of reduced dissolved oxygen and elevated bacteria in the bayous and identified strategies to restore water quality through the development of the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan. The stakeholders’ local knowledge and input in the loading calculations and source models necessary to fully characterize the pollutants in the watershed were vital to the watershed protection plan process.
The Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan ( http://www.doublebayou.org/wpp-document/) contains information on watershed management, water quality, pollutant sources and loads, management measures, public participation and project implementation. The voluntary management measures discussed in the Plan were developed with local stakeholders and include measures to address stakeholder-identified, potential sources of bacteria. The wide range of management measures address wastewater system infrastructure, septic systems, agriculture, wildlife and non-domestic (invasive) plants and animals, and recreation.
Now that stakeholders have approved the Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan and it has been accepted by the EPA as having met the nine-point criteria (see below), the implementation phase begins. The Plan outlines many stakeholder-recommended management measures to improve water quality. Since the Plan is accepted by the EPA, implementation of the management measures is eligible for certain funding sources. Some of the measures are broad-based, such as outreach and education, and some are focused on addressing particular sources, such as upgrades and maintenance to septic systems or developing voluntary water quality management plans (WQMPs).
A WQMP is a site-specific plan developed by a local landowner in partnership with professional conservationists at the TSSWCB and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Double Bayou stakeholders suggested a variety of management measures that could be part of a WQMP, to address nonpoint source runoff from agriculture and livestock, such as prescribed grazing or alternative water sources for livestock. Some management measures were focused on feral hogs (an invasive species) — one recommendation was to hire a feral hog technician to oversee feral hog management in the watershed. Continued water quality monitoring of Double Bayou was also recommended in the implementation phase to determine effects of implemented management measures.
The “Nine Elements” of a Successful Watershed Protection Plan
In 2002, the EPA identified nine key elements of watershed protection plans that lead to successful implementation. The Double Bayou Watershed Protection Plan addresses each of these key elements:
- Identify causes and sources of pollution;
- Estimate load reductions expected;
- Describe management measures and targeted critical areas;
- Estimate technical and financial assistance needed;
- Develop an information and education component;
- Develop a project schedule;
- Describe interim, measurable milestones;
- Identify indicators to measure progress; and
- Develop a monitoring component.
To learn more about WPPs, their development, and these key elements, visit the Texas A&M Texas Water Resource Institute website.