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.