Bacteria Reduction Efforts in our Waterways
In 1996, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)
first identified waterways in the Houston region as having bacteria
levels high enough to raise concerns about whether the identified
waterways are safe for swimming and wading. These waterways were
listed in the state’s “303(d) List,” which identifies waterways that
do not meet state standards for various uses.
Since then, TCEQ has studied these and other waterways more
thoroughly to discover the extent of the high levels of bacteria. As
a result, additional waterways have been listed as impaired. The
TCEQ developed Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, for these
waterways. TMDLs are like a budget for pollution: they quantify how
much of a pollutant a waterway can absorb and still meet state
standards and they identify how much of a reduction is required to
meet the state standard.
After the TMDL budget is established, an implementation plan is
drawn up, which details steps needed to reduce bacteria to safe
levels. Because the people, resources, and solutions for the
implementation plans for these TMDLs have so many similarities,
stakeholders from the TMDL projects agreed that a combined group to
develop the implementation plan would be appropriate.
Through a broad-based, consensus process facilitated by the
Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), a committee to address
implementation was formed. The 30-member committee, known as the
Bacteria Implementation Group,
or the “BIG”, is
responsible for receiving input, establishing working groups,
facilitating communications, developing and adopting
recommendations, and providing oversight. Activities of the BIG are
open to all interested parties, and people are encouraged to
participate in the various work groups that will be formed to
address specific water quality issues.
Recognizing that storm water runoff from urban areas frequently
exceeds state standards for bacteria, the JTF developed Bacteria Reduction Plans (BRPs) to specifically
address bacteria as part of their MS4 permit. The BRPs address
prioritization of efforts, eliminating illicit discharges, improving
storm water runoff from construction sites and fully-developed
sites, improving runoff from areas of cosmetic washing and exhibited
animals, monitoring water quality, and research into new areas to
solve identified issues.