Watershed coordinator roundtable highlights importance of wetlands

The Texas Water Resources Institute held its semi-annual Texas Watershed Coordinator Roundtable in Combine, Texas, April 30 - May 1. The two-day tour and roundtable is part of the Texas Watershed Planning Program and brings together watershed coordinators and other water resource professionals from across the state.

Hosted at the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center, the tour and roundtable discussion centered on the roles wetlands can play in both stormwater management and water reuse.

Day one of the roundtable was spent touring the wetlands around the center. The land was originally natural wetlands but was drained and turned into pastureland for cattle. In the early 2000s, the land was reverted into wetlands and what it is today: the largest man-made wetland area in the United States at just over 1,800 acres.

Now owned and operated by the North Texas Municipal Water District, the wetlands are part of the East Fork Water Reuse Project, which draws water from the East Fork of the Trinity River and naturally filters it before the cleaned water is pumped into Lavon Lake and used for drinking water across 10 North Texas counties.

“We went from the upstream part of the system where they pump water out of the East Fork of the Trinity River and basically went all the way down through the wetland system to the pump station at the bottom end where they take clean water from the wetlands and pump it back into the lake,” said TWRI Associate Director Lucas Gregory, Ph.D..

The purpose, Gregory explained, was to see and discuss how the wetland system functions and the value the water district gets from this area.

“We had people who know that system like the back of their hand explain what it is, how it functions and what some of the challenges are,” he said.

Extreme weather can sometimes affect the system, he said. In drought the river levels can be too low to pull water from; and heavy rain events can raise lake levels too high to take any water from the wetlands.

Day two’s roundtable and discussion began with members of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, North Texas Council of Governments, AgriLife and Tarrant Regional Water District talking about different aspects of stormwater management and tools they have developed to help.

“Tarrant Regional Water District talked about their transportation stormwater infrastructure approach, where they are looking at ways to optimize stormwater management with transportation infrastructure,” Gregory said. “The Army Corps of Engineers talked about some of the tools they have for flood forecasting and prediction. They have developed a lot of tools and resources to model some of these extreme rain events. FEMA also talked about financial and societal impacts of floods.”

Afternoon discussions shifted focus back to wetlands, their function and their potential for mitigating some of the stormflow challenges mentioned in the morning.

“We tried to bridge the gap between native wetlands and constructed wetlands and talked about the value and purpose of constructed wetlands,” Gregory said.

The roundtable wrapped up with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department experts showing some of the native wetland types across the state and trends in those wetlands.

“We’ve lost a lot of wetlands over the years and lost that flood capacity and storm damage mitigation, especially with coastal wetlands that are either being submerged due to sea level rise or being filled in for development purposes,” Gregory said. “So, there’s a lot that can be done to help protect wetlands and keep them there.”

One way, he mentions, is developers working to incorporate wetland-type systems into their building plans. Some areas that already had these types of stormwater management practices during Hurricane Harvey protected houses from flooding.

One of the biggest benefits from this roundtable was meeting professionals from various agencies and learning how to address both water quality concerns and stormwater management, Gregory said.

“A constructed wetland, for example, if it’s properly designed, is going to slow or detain a lot of stormwater and filter it with proper vegetation,” he said. “The goal of this roundtable was to bridge the gap between the stormwater side and the water quality side and get people thinking about all the tools in the toolbox that we have to address both at the same time.”


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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