Conservation Matters March 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership wins Texas Environmental Excellence Award

Arroyo ColoradoThe Texas Water Resources Institute was recently selected as the winner of the Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the civic/community category for its Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership.

Presented annually by the Governor of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards spotlight the state's highest achievements in environmental preservation and protection. Representatives from the institute will accept the award during the commission's annual awards banquet as part of its Environmental Trade Fair and Conference at the Austin Convention Center, on May 2 in Austin.

"This award is definitely an honor for the institute, but the real credit goes to the farmers, the cities and other project participants who have made this partnership such a success," said Dr. Neal Wilkins, the institute's director.

Jaime Flores, an institute program coordinator and watershed coordinator for the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan Implementation project, said the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership is comprised of more than 700 people representing federal, state and private organizations, agricultural producers and other interested individuals concerned with identified water quality problems in the Arroyo Colorado in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The partnership published its Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan in 2007, one of the first watershed protection plans in the state, he said.

"Through multiple projects and the cooperation of many stakeholders, the institute and partnership have achieved 75 percent of the goals set forth in the plan," Flores said. "University scientists and city officials are working alongside farmers and schoolchildren to monitor, clean-up and educate others about the Arroyo."

Flores said three cities have constructed wetlands that receive treated effluent from their wastewater treatment plants. The wetlands reduce bacteria, nutrients and biochemical oxygen demands loads entering the Arroyo. "These wetlands also provide an excellent educational opportunity to teach those interested about their natural functions," he said.

"Cooperating farmers have implemented agricultural BMPs that have reduced nitrogen, potassium and phosphate amounts entering the Arroyo," he said. "We have educated more than 30,000 adults and students about the watershed, their impact on its water quality, and how they can be better stewards. We have also installed storm drain markers and watershed boundary signs, which have reduced trash and pollutants entering storm drains."

The institute began coordinating the Arroyo Colorado program in 2007, working closely with the partnership, the commission, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Texas General Land Office to implement practices to improve water quality, according to Allen Berthold, an institute project manager.

"The institute and the partnership have submitted or supported submission of more than 39 proposals since 2005," Berthold said. "Currently, the institute manages five projects for the partnership, totaling approximately $2.3 million in funds with other projects beginning in September."

The Texas Water Resources Institute is a unit of Texas AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

More information on the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership can be found at arroyocolorado.org.

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