Spring watershed coordinator roundtable tours Baffin Bay, gathers Texas water leaders

(Attendees at the watershed coordinator roundtable event in Baffin Bay. Photo by Cameron Castilaw, TWRI.)

Watershed coordinators and other water resource professionals convened in Corpus Christi for a two-day watershed tour and roundtable April 18-19. Part of TWRI’s Watershed Planning Short Course program, the semi-annual Texas Watershed Coordinator Roundtable gives attendees the opportunity to network and discuss happenings in the watershed planning space.

This meeting’s tour and roundtable focused on Baffin Bay, located about 45 miles south of Corpus Christi and known for its world-class fishing of sea trout, redfish and black drum. The bay’s water quality and overall ecosystem health have experienced a significant decline in the last 30-40 years.

“We wanted to highlight what was going on down there because there’s a lot of activity with a lot of different parties involved,” TWRI Associate Director Lucas Gregory said. “They’re dealing with a variety of issues, and it helps to see things firsthand.”

The San Fernando and Petronila Creeks Watershed Protection Plan was recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a large portion of the watershed feeds into Baffin Bay, Gregory said.

Day one of the event saw attendees at four different sites, each highlighting different parts of the watershed and the positive or negative impacts they have on instream and bay water quality depending on their management.

“We put together a watershed tour, which is something we’ve not done with this roundtable meeting in the past,” Gregory said. “But it helps to actually get out there and look at some of the things that we’re dealing with through the watershed plan on the ground.”

The first stop was at the historic King Ranch, where staff in its farming and ranching operations discussed their practices and methods for managing the land in an environmentally conscious way.

“It was awesome to see what they’re doing with their land and how they’re managing it and what they’re doing from a conservation and stewardship perspective,” Gregory said. “They’re really a prime example of how you can do things and should be commended for their efforts.”

From there the tour went down to the bay, stopping at the Riviera Fishing Pier to see and discuss shoreline erosion. While the undeveloped land along the bay is fantastic from a bay health perspective, according to Gregory, it comes with its own challenges. High winds and hard waves crashing into the shore break down the shoreline and can be cause for concern. The group also looked at some of the septic systems accessible near the bay.

“There are a lot of septic systems across the watershed and a fairly high concentration of those around the bay as well,” he said. “If properly designed and properly functioning, they do a fantastic job. But failures in those systems can have some pretty significant impacts on water quality.”

The tour then headed into Kingsville to discuss stormwater infrastructure. Due to the low elevation of the area, flooding is a large concern.

“We looked at an example of a neighborhood that integrated a stormwater management feature as opposed to just having a pipe that goes straight to a drainage ditch,” Gregory said. “They created a neighborhood park which adds value to the neighborhood and helps manage stormwater.”

After that, the group toured a wastewater treatment plant. This plant serves a smaller community, which has created funding and maintenance challenges as it has aged.

The final stop was at a monitoring site to see Petronila Creek and an adjacent colonia. Colonias are unincorporated, under-resourced areas often lacking waterlines, waste management and other basic services. These communities rely on septic systems that can create significant challenges when they fail and are close to waterbodies.

“We talked about some of the challenges and issues that come along with these remote communities that don’t have access to centralized services and maybe don’t completely understand the potential risk of not maintaining their septic system,” Gregory said.

The tour also helped those involved in water quality improvement and education from the area better understand different aspects of their work’s impacts. For people like Ana Garcia, who works for Voices of the Colonias, a nonprofit organization working in collaboration with Texas A&M Kingsville that provides mental health skills and other services to rural colonia communities, the tour was illuminating.

“It was such an eye opener to attend the tour because it put  into perspective what I’m actually teaching out there,” Garcia said. “When you’re there on the ground you get a better sense of what these concepts mean and what they’re trying to do.”

Day two was a roundtable meeting aimed to dig a little deeper about research and outreach efforts ongoing in the bay. The first half focused on water quality concerns and stakeholder efforts in the area address those issues.

“From a science perspective, we highlighted the monitoring work that’s going on down there and what the drivers were to get the ball rolling in Baffin Bay,” Gregory said. “There’s a ton of people working, doing different projects, to assess different things and look at different solutions to improve water quality across the bay.”

The second half of the roundtable highlighted community engagement and outreach programs around the area. Throughout the day, people were able to network and learn about what other groups were doing.

“Oftentimes, people get focused on their one thing that they’re doing, or their little niche, and they don’t necessarily see the bigger picture,” Gregory said. “So, it helped really paint a full picture of the bay itself and the challenges and issues that are going on.”


Cameron Castilaw is a communication specialist at the Texas Water Resources Institute. She works with the communications team to create social media content, write for TWRI’s various platforms and print projects, and find new ways to inform people of TWRI’s mission and programs.

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