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BACKGROUND

The principal aim of the Texas Clean Rivers Program is to ensure safe, clean water supplies for the future of Texans’ drinking water needs, industry, irrigation, recreation, healthy ecosystems and for all other uses of this valuable state resource. According to the Mission Statement contained in the Clean Rivers Program Long Term Action Plan, 20002005: The goal of the Clean Rivers Program is to maintain and improve the quality of water resources within each river basin in Texas through an ongoing partnership involving the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, other agencies, river authorities, regional entities, local governments, industry and citizens. The program will use a watershed management approach to identify and evaluate water quality issues, establish priorities for corrective action and work to implement those actions. The key strategy for meeting this goal is to re-orient everyone’s thinking from government officials, private interests to citizens towards a more “watershed approach” to water quality management. Numerous activities occur in watersheds that can generate pollutants — everything from industrial and agricultural processes to everyday activities such as lawn care and auto maintenance. The idea behind a watershed approach is to consider simultaneously all these potentially harmful activities when studying water quality problems and designing solutions. This comprehensive approach is increasingly important as the United States moves beyond its 30-year campaign to bring “point sources” of water pollution under control (such as industrial and municipal wastewater discharges) and shifts its focus to even more challenging water quality problems, such as the “nonpoint source” pollution associated with stormwater runoff. Where various pollutants end up in the environment is tied to the movement of water across the land after rainfall and to subsurface flows of water through aquifers. Therefore a regional, watershed-based approach also is critical since government responds to most problems within various jurisdictional lines while environmental problems occur within natural settings unrelated to political boundaries. The Clean Rivers Program has effectively become a “testing ground” for full-fledged watershed management in Texas. This includes such initiatives as basin-wide water quality monitoring strategies and simultaneous expiration of wastewater permits within watersheds to allow for more coordinated permitting. Besides keeping Texas at the lead of a nationwide trend, this also puts the state in a favorable position as Congress works toward a revised Clean Water Act that emphasizes a watershed-based approach to water quality protection and enhancement. The Clean Rivers Program also adopts the theme of preventing pollution at its source whenever possible to avoid the high cost of treating wastes for release into the environment — or, even worse, correcting the ecological damage which may result from these releases. As the goals indicate, the Clean Rivers Program establishes a consensus-building process in each of the state’s major river and coastal basins. It is a “bottom-up” process for bringing local perspective and insights to water quality management while helping the state meet its water quality responsibilities under the federal Clean Water Act, the Texas Water Code and other legislative mandates. This allows for: •

priorities to be set locally by those who know the area best and naturally have the greatest concern for their own waters,

regional differences to be taken into account, such as variations in water characteristics and types of pollutants, landscapes and other natural influences, and the degree of development and population growth, and for

the state’s residents and decision makers to appreciate how everyone ultimately shares responsibility for achieving and maintaining clean, safe waters.

The results of the Clean Rivers process must help to set the agenda for all other water quality management programs: monitoring, standards development, permitting, enforcement, public outreach, and field investigations and research. At the same time, these programs must take advantage of the basin assessment process to see that their information needs are addressed and in line with local priorities. In the end, the underlying goal of the entire Clean Rivers process is to make the most effective use possible of the valuable public funds already directed toward water quality protection.

“…Texas Clean Rivers Program is to ensure safe, clean water supplies for the future of Texans drinking water needs”


OBJECTIVES OF THE CLEAN RIVERS PROGRAM

Identify high-priority water quality problem areas in order to focus resources and future studies on those areas. Make a comprehensive assessment to ensure that a broad range of potential pollution threats to water resources is taken into account and the relative risk of each weighed. Provide sufficient and reliable information to the TCEQ, other agencies, river authorities, local governments, and the public to enable them to make informed decisions and take appropriate corrective action to meet water quality goals. Develop a cooperative partnership between river authorities, other regional entities, local governments, state agencies, private industry, conservation organizations, and other local interests to identify and address water quality problems within basins more effectively. Avoid duplication of effort among these partners in various water quality protection initiatives. Involve citizens and private organizations in efforts to protect local water resources through a “grass roots” approach to identifying local water quality concerns, setting priorities, and designing effective solutions. Make better use of the extensive water quality information already assembled by various agencies and groups while also identifying gaps where information is lacking and more effort is needed. Evaluate whether perceived water quality problems are legitimate concerns by applying scientific methods and using available data to reach meaningful conclusions about potential environmental and public health risks.

PURPOSE OF BASIN SUMMARY REPORT

This report presents the results of H-GAC’s assessment work for the San Jacinto River Basin and three coastal drainage basins: the Trinity-San Jacinto Coastal Basin, the San Jacinto-Brazos Coastal Basin and the Brazos-Colorado Coastal Basin. This includes specific findings and recommendations from the basin assessment process and the results of committee deliberations and public outreach activities. The Clean Rivers Act requires that River Authorities, in appropriate years of the planning cycle (every five years), prepare written reports for the Governor, TCEQ, the Texas State Soil & Water Conservation Board and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on the results of the basin assessment process in their respective basins. This reporting process began in 1997 and is ongoing. The River Authority must also summarize and submit comments of the report from feepayers and Steering Committee Members to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House of Representatives within 90 days after the submission of the Basin Summary Report. This schedule is designed to provide to state officials the timeliest information on water quality conditions and management efforts across the state just as the Texas Legislature prepares to convene for its biennial sessions beginning in January of odd-numbered years. While the Basin Summary Report provides an opportunity to highlight progress made, present assessment findings and reconsider basin priorities, it is only part of an ongoing water quality assessment and strategy development process as the Clean Rivers Program evolves. The report outlines water quality issues confronting the entire basin as well as individual streams, lakes, bayous and bays. These issues are compiled based on public and committee input as well as technical analysis of historical, current and projected trends in water quality. This work is completed according to TCEQ guidance, which specifies a range of elements to be examined to achieve a comprehensive assessment. In years when the Basin Summary Report is not due, H-GAC produces a Basin Highlights Report. That report contains a brief summary of activities that are going on in the various basins. The Basin Summary Report also complements the TCEQ’s 305(b) report and provides an excellent check for the 303(d) (impaired waters) list. The State’s 305(b) Report provides an assessment of waters through out the state that is conducted in even numbered years. Not all streams are assessed in every report. The assessment is conducted to evaluate stream compliance with its designated water quality standards and uses. Streams that are not in compliance with their designated standards or uses are placed on the 303(d) list. This local process provides for a more detailed review of the local monitoring data and a better understanding of local conditions.


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H-GAC’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE CLEAN RIVERS PROGRAM H-GAC was designated as the lead agency responsible for conducting the regional water quality assessment for the San Jacinto River Basin and three coastal basins — the Trinity-San Jacinto, the San Jacinto-Brazos and the Brazos-Colorado. In many of the state’s major river basins, a legislatively-created river authority exists and is leading the assessment effort for its basin, as intended by the Legislature through the Clean Rivers Act. In other areas not covered by a particular river authority, either a neighboring authority or some other logical regional entity was to be designated to oversee the assessment. The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is leading the assessments itself for the Rio Grande basin and the Nueces coastal basins.

The San Jacinto River Authority requested H-GAC assume this lead assessment role for the San Jacinto River Basin. The Authority is among the smallest of Texas River Authorities and focused mainly on the northern portion of its basin where Lake Conroe is located. The Authority also saw H-GAC as the more appropriate entity to handle the assessment in the Houston metropolitan area where coordination among so many agencies, local governments and other interests would be necessary. As the Council of Governments (COG) and regional planning agency for the Gulf Coast State Planning Region, H-GAC has more than twenty-five years of experience in regional environmental planning and public outreach activities. In addition, many of the key agencies and individuals normally involved in regional water quality matters already come together under the umbrella of H-GAC’s existing environmental committees and programs. Importantly, H-GAC also has a continuously developing Regional Geographic Information System (GIS), which is a valuable data management, analysis and mapping tool for the basin assessment process. For the same reasons, the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority (GCA) requested that H-GAC lead the assessments for the Trinity-San Jacinto and San Jacinto-Brazos Coastal Basins (GCA was created by the Legislature in 1969 to provide waste disposal and pollution control services in Chambers, Galveston and Harris counties). H-GAC coordinated its work plan for the San Jacinto-Brazos Coastal Basin with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) since the Oyster Creek watershed in the westernmost portion of the coastal basin had been an ongoing area of concern for BRA. Similarly, H-GAC agreed to take on most of the Brazos-Colorado Coastal Basin in the western part of its region after confirming that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) would be responsible for assessing East Matagorda Bay and the drainage from the western side of the coastal basin into that bay. In October 1991 H-GAC’s Board of Directors authorized the Council’s involvement in the Clean Rivers Program under these terms. In FY2000 H-GAC and LCRA amended the areas that each agency would be assessing under their contracts. H-GAC elected to assess only the San Bernard River watershed. LCRA would assess the remainder of the basin. During each contract period, H-GAC will give the LCRA a portion of its allocation to do that assessment work. The task of assessing four separate basins in its region has given H-GAC the opportunity to: •

look simultaneously at a group of basins which together contain much of the urbanized area of metropolitan Houston (the only major metropolitan area in Texas not contained within a single drainage basin),

consider the impacts of these same basins and the urbanized area on the Galveston Bay system in concert with the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, which also factors in the significant influence of the Trinity River Basin on this vital Texas estuary, and

compare water quality conditions and trends across the four basins, highlight shared regional concerns and priorities, and transfer solutions and successes between the basins.

ROLE OF THE HOUSTON-GALVESTON AREA COUNCIL

As the lead assessment agency for the San Jacinto River Basin and the Trinity-San Jacinto, San JacintoBrazos, and Brazos- Colorado coastal basins, H-GAC is overseeing all aspects of the Clean Rivers process in these basins. This includes: •

serving as liaison to the TCEQ throughout the process,

participating in statewide Clean Rivers Program task forces,

handling all administrative tasks, including work plan development, budget preparation and progress reporting,


completing various Clean Rivers Program project tasks,

managing all subcontracts associated with the project,

supporting the work of H-GAC’s Clean Rivers Program Steering Committee and smaller working groups which are created as needed,

handling all public outreach and involvement activities, including fulfilling H-GAC’s responsibilities as a Texas Watch Partner in support of volunteer citizen water quality monitors in the basins,

maintaining regular contacts with staff of other lead assessment agencies (most notably the Trinity River Authority, Brazos River Authority and Lower Colorado River Authority in the H-GAC region) and other key environmental programs, such as the Galveston Bay Estuary Program and the Texas Coastal Management Program,

arranging all meetings, workshops, and other Clean Rivers Program special events and

producing the regional water quality assessment report for the basins every five years and a high lights report in each year in-between.

Project staff also updates H-GAC’s Board of Directors and Natural Resources Advisory Committee (NRAC) regularly on Clean Rivers Program progress and results. Board approval, based on NRAC recommendations, is required for major actions such as entry into contracts with TCEQ, approval of subcontracts and submission of final reports. The 2006 rosters for H-GAC’s Board of Directors and Natural Resources Advisory Committee are in the Acknowledgements section at the beginning of this report, along with a list of H-GAC’s Clean Rivers Program project staff.


WATERSHED: contains all the land area that drains toward a particular water body. The Clean Rivers Program focuses on the state’s most significant watersheds — the 23 river and coastal “basins” that drain to Texas major rivers or directly to the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas coast.

TEXAS CLEAN RIVERS ACT The Texas Legislature in 1991 passed the Texas Clean Rivers Act which was reauthorized in 1997. The Act was intended to move Texas toward comprehensive water resources planning and management to ensure the integrity of the state’s water supply over the long term. State leaders know that the water needs of some 17 million people across Texas are currently met while still leaving some 25 percent of the state’s water capacity in reserve. However, some forecasts show the state’s population doubling over the next 50 years while Texas water supplies will remain relatively fixed. Additionally, various water pollution concerns remain to be addressed across the state even after several decades of remarkable and substantial progress in restoring the quality of Texas waters. The Clean Rivers Act requires an ongoing assessment of water quality issues and management strategies statewide to guide Texas water resources policy and decision-making into the 21st Century. The Act established the Texas Clean Rivers Program under the Texas Water Commission (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ). The program is funded by fees assessed on wastewater discharge permittees and water rights holders.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The “bottom line” of the Clean Rivers Program is to help the state, the region, and its elected leaders and citizens answer more reliably such fundamental questions as: What is the quality of our water? Are state water quality standards being met? What are the sources and impacts of water pollution? Where is greater enforcement action or public education needed to reduce pollution? Where do we need more monitoring to improve our knowledge of water quality conditions? Are state management programs in line with local priorities? What can we expect in the future for our waterways?

GOALS FOR THE CLEAN RIVERS PROGRAM

GOAL 1 Ensure efficient use of public funds GOAL 2 Enhance public participation and outreach GOAL 3 Encourage comprehensive and cooperative watershed planning GOAL 4 Maintain basin-wide water quality monitoring programs GOAL 5 Develop and maintain a river basin water quality database clearinghouse GOAL 6 Provide quality assured data to the TCEQ for use in water quality decision making GOAL 7 Focus on Priority Issues and address local initiatives GOAL 8 Identify, analyze and report on water quality issues and potential causes of pollution GOAL 9 Identify and evaluate alternatives for preventing and reducing pollution

“The Clean Rivers Program focuses on the state’s most significant watersheds”


BASINS IN THE H-GAC REGION

Portions of six important Texas river basins fall within H-GAC’s 13-county region. These six, from east to west, are the Neches, the Trinity, the San Jacinto, the Brazos, the Colorado and the Lavaca. In addition, the H-GAC region includes five coastal basins — the intervening areas between major river basins in which water drains directly to the coast rather than to a river. These are the Neches-Trinity, the Trinity-San Jacinto, the San Jacinto-Brazos, the Brazos-Colorado and the Colorado-Lavaca (named according to the river basins they are between).

CLEAN RIVERS PROGRAM BENEFITS TO THE H-GAC REGION

By participating in the Clean Rivers process, H-GAC has made valuable connections with other federal, state and local agencies and various interest groups involved with regional water quality issues. As the only Council of Governments (COG) in the state acting as a lead assessment agency, H-GAC also has been able to involve its member local governments in the basin assessment process more directly than might otherwise have been possible. And while several other regional entities are leading the assessment process for particular basins that cross the H-GAC region, H-GAC’s assessment areas include at least a portion of all 13 of its member counties. (In the case of the San Jacinto River, its basin actually extends northward beyond H-GAC’s 13-county area, so the Clean Rivers Program provided an opportunity for H-GAC to work directly with two adjacent counties, Grimes and San Jacinto. Representatives of these counties serve on H-GAC’s Clean Rivers Program Steering Committee.)

H-GAC’S CLEAN RIVERS PROGRAM PRIORITIES

Since completing its first basin assessment report in October 1992, H-GAC has pursued the following priority activities through the Clean Rivers process: Identify water quality issues raised by citizens, advisory committee members and resource agencies as well as by other studies. Inventory basin features using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to verify where certain critical activities, such as water quality monitoring occur, and to help confirm the specific location of potential pollution sources. Compile existing water quality information by creating a network of all entities involved in water quality monitoring, establishing mechanisms for greater sharing of data, and developing a regional data management strategy with H-GAC serving as a clearinghouse for central access and storage. Analyze trend data to identify potential water quality concerns across the region (as well as waters of exceptional quality), to determine where more information is needed to reach scientific conclusions, to provide for comparison of local water quality with statewide findings, and to begin to pinpoint pollution causes and priority locations within the basins for further investigation. Develop Geographic Information System (GIS) and in-house capabilities to address various Clean Rivers Program tasks, including development of accurate base maps and presentation and analysis of the environmental and hydrologic information assembled for the basins. Participate in statewide task forces which establish the overall direction of the Clean Rivers Program as well as priorities and strategies for specific project tasks. Establish work groups to focus on specific project tasks and issues of concern, enabling staff to better tap the expertise and insights of Steering Committee and Basin Advisory Network members. Expand public outreach activities to provide area residents with information about the Clean Rivers Program and its basin assessment findings while also involving citizens directly in water quality protection efforts by providing “hands-on,” educational opportunities, as well as coordinating these activities with other agencies and outreach programs whenever possible.


Monitor other key programs with similar regional missions and scopes to determine how they might interact with the Clean Rivers Program and watershed management efforts while avoiding any duplications and identifying areas for coordination. Secure additional funding to pursue special studies and other recommended actions resulting from the basin assessment process

Basin Summary Report 2006  

A summary of the water quality in the H-GAC basins

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