Conservation Matters April 2013

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Arroyo Colorado cleanup efforts paying off

Wild nilgaiThe award-winning cleanup efforts to help revitalize a highly polluted yet important waterway in South Texas are entering their second phase, and officials want public input as they begin updating the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan, according to the program coordinator.

Jaime Flores, the Arroyo Colorado watershed coordinator with the Texas Water Resources Institute in Weslaco, said that phase one of the state’s first watershed protection plan is coming to a close, and cleanup efforts through 2020 and beyond need to be defined.

“We need to update the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan, which was intended to guide implementation efforts through 2012,” he said. “There was so much to do, we couldn’t get everything into the first plan. We want stakeholders, which includes the general public, to assess our original plan and help us determine how our future efforts should evolve.”

Flores also coordinates the activities of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, a group of 700 people, representing federal, state and private organizations working to improve watershed health, integrate management and seek out watershed project funding. Last year, the water institute and the partnership won the Texas Environmental Excellence Award for its achievements in environmental preservation and protection. The award is presented annually by the governor of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The arroyo’s watershed covers most of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, Flores said. The area is home to 1 million or so people, most of who were not around when the bulk of the area’s infrastructure was constructed.

As part of the cleanup plan, since 2007, Valley cities have invested nearly $68 million in upgrading or building new wastewater facilities, including the installation of tertiary wetland treatment systems. Another phase of the watershed protection plan encouraged and assisted municipalities in using treated wastewater, or “reuse” water, to irrigate city-owned landscaping, parks, sports complexes and golf courses.

“So far, eight cities are now using close to 2 billion gallons of reuse water every year instead of potable water,” he said. “By the time the city of McAllen completes its project, that amount will climb to almost 3 billion gallons.”

Other efforts to reduce pollution include improved storm drains and farmers’ commitment to best management practices that reduce the amount of nutrients and chemicals that find their way to the Arroyo Colorado.

“Education and outreach are also important,” Flores said. “More and more cities are now holding their own Earth Days and Arbor Days to improve our environment and encourage recycling and properly disposing of used oil and trash. It’s more difficult to build colonias now without the proper infrastructure. All these efforts help clean up the Arroyo.”

 “The water is constantly being analyzed and people can keep up with this data on our website,” Flores said. “And so far data shows that while pollutants haven’t decreased, they are no longer increasing. It’s leveled off. But the fight has just begun; there’s a lot more work to do and we need public input on how to go about that.”

To become a member of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership or to get information on their next meeting, go to arroyocolorado.org or contact Flores at 956.968.5581. Read the full AgriLife TODAY article for more information.

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