Preserving and Improving Water Quality
An overview of how the TCEQ defines, measures, evaluates, and manages the quality of surface waters in Texas
The TCEQ monitors the quality of surface water to evaluate physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of aquatic systems. Water quality is monitored in relation to human health concerns, ecological condition, and designated uses.
The same methods must be used by everyone collecting water samples, using reliable procedures that yield repeatable results. This allows for comparison of data collected by different organizations.
Routine Monitoring Sites
The TCEQ assessed data from more than 4,900 stations to develop the 2014 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality, which describes the condition of waterways throughout the state and identifies impaired waters.
Continuous Monitoring Sites
The TCEQ continuously monitors water quality parameters at stations in selected watersheds throughout Texas.
In 2016, there were approximately 43 active continuous water quality monitoring stations throughout the state.
Screenshot of Coordinated Monitoring Planning Tool
TCEQ partners with numerous organizations to develop a statewide monitoring schedule that includes approximately 1,800 active sampling sites.
The schedule is coordinated statewide by the TCEQ. Every spring, approximately 20 meetings are held all over the state to plan monitoring for the upcoming fiscal year.
Coordinated monitoring makes data collection more efficient by leveraging limited funds. Advantages of coordinated monitoring include:
- Eliminating duplication of effort, thereby saving resources.
- Increasing local participation in setting priorities and planning solutions.
- Ensuring consistent data quality for decision making.
Clean Rivers Program
Established in 1991, the Clean Rivers Program (CRP) is a very successful partnership between the TCEQ, regional water authorities, and the public.
Fifteen regional water authorities manage the program in 23 river and coastal basins.
The CRP is a hub for water quality information and coordination of monitoring efforts and public participation, for each river basin.
CRP partners collect more than 60% of the water quality data used by TCEQ.
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Standards and Assessment
In order to protect water quality, we must first define and measure it. So we first define standards. A water quality standard is the combination, or pairing, of a use and associated criteria. Uses are the purposes for which the water should be suitable. Criteria are the indicators used to determine whether quality is good enough to support the uses.
Measuring water quality requires reliable, consistent, quality-assured data. Those data are collected and shared through the SWQMIS—the Surface Water Quality Monitoring Information System.
Every two years, we report the status of Texas’ natural waters, based on historical data, in the Texas Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality.
The Surface Water Quality Monitoring Program assesses data from all waters throughout the state to evaluate attainment of water quality standards. The total amount of area assessed for each type of water body depends on the amount of data collected within the specified time frame of assessment for the Integrated Report.
Areas Assessed in Texas in 2016
- 26,000 stream miles (14%)
- 2,331 square miles of reservoirs (75%)
- 2,591 square miles of estuaries (99%)
- 8.42 square miles of recreational beaches (48%)
TCEQ continues to improve techniques and protocols for assigning tailored, site-specific uses.
The TCEQ’s Surface Water Quality Monitoring Information System (SWQMIS) is used to store, manage, and make publicly available water quality monitoring data from across the state. More than 20 separate organizations, including river authorities and local, state, and federal agencies, report data to SWQMIS.
In an average year, the Data Management & Analysis Team:
- Verifies, validates and/or loads more than 350,000 sample results.
- Creates 100 new monitoring stations in SWQMIS.
- Trains more than 30 new SWQMIS users.
- Manages over 21.6 million sample results and related metadata.
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The state uses several strategies to protect rivers, lakes, and bays. One of those strategies is regulation of stormwater and wastewater discharged to natural waters through permits. Texas' collection of rules, guidelines, and permits is called the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
To make it easier to apply for some permits, the TCEQ made applications available online through its secure STEERS ePermits system. These ePermits make it faster and less expensive for both dischargers and the TCEQ to process permit requests.
- E-Permitting has increased efficiency and timeliness in issuing wastewater and stormwater authorizations.
- Permittees receive coverage faster and are eligible for reduced fees when they use the ePermit system.
- As a result, usage of this system has increased significantly over time.
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When protective strategies are not sufficient to keep natural waters clean enough for all their uses, we take action to restore water quality.
The Nonpoint Source Program (NPS Program) administers federal funding to help watershed stakeholders address nonpoint sources of water pollution. The program is jointly administered by the TCEQ and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) .
This program regularly updates a comprehensive Texas NPS Management Program and tracks its progress in NPS Annual Reports.
The primary activities supported by these funds are grant projects to develop and implement Watershed Protection Plans (WPP).
As of 2016, the total area addressed by WPPs in Texas is approximately:
- 4,231 Stream Miles
- 115,505 Acres Reservoir
- 512,918 Acres Estuary
- 544,294 Acres Oyster Waters
Each year, the TCEQ uses a process called Request for Grant Applications (RFGA) to award federal NPS grants. The RFGA happens in the summer and awards 2-3 million dollars annually. Awarded projects receive 60 percent of their cost from federal funds. The balance of 40 percent must be matched with state or local funds or in-kind services.
Since 2008, EPA has recognized the success of activities to address NPS pollution which were funded by the TCEQ and TSSWCB. These NPS success stories highlight activities to improve water quality.
The Total Maximum Daily Load Program (TMDL Program) works with local stakeholders to improve water quality in watersheds throughout Texas. Stakeholders are actively engaged in water quality restoration activities.
As of June 2016, the total area covered by the TMDLs and associated I-Plans was:
- 2,226 Stream Miles
- 27,248 Reservoir Acres
- 224 Estuary Square Miles
Learn more about watersheds where TMDLs are being implemented.
Galveston Bay Estuary Program
Since 2000, the TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP) and its partners created, protected, restored, or enhanced 27,169 acres of important coastal habitat. During fiscal years 2015 and 2016, GBEP protected, restored, and enhanced 3,087 acres of coastal wetlands and other important habitats and protected 4,786 linear feet of shoreline. Through collaborative partnerships established by the GBEP, $6.9 million was leveraged through private, local, and federal contributions.
The goal of the Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) is to support the GBEP and its partners’ efforts to preserve wetlands and other important coastal habitats to protect the long-term health and productivity of Galveston Bay. The CAP was developed to protect habitat and water quality, reduce flood and storm damage, provide recreational opportunities for residents in the area, and to preserve the region’s unique natural heritage.
The CAP has been associated with seven successful projects from 2011-2016, conserving approximately 5,048 acres. In addition, there are multiple active CAP projects in the region, which target the conservation of nearly 8,800 acres. Lone Pine Farm and Gordy Marsh are just two examples from this program.
Back the Bay is the GBEP’s public awareness campaign designed to engage citizens in the Houston-Galveston region to improve water quality, conserve water, and protect fish and wildlife habitat. The campaign was created through a stakeholder-driven process and began with a pilot concept in 2010. By 2013, it was fully implemented in the 5-county region surrounding Galveston Bay. The campaign offers a fun and interactive way for residents to learn about the benefits of, and their connection to, the region’s most valuable natural resource. The campaign also features conservation tips for residents to help the Bay.
The Cease the Grease Campaign (CtG) is a regional campaign with the purpose of reducing sanitary sewer overflows from fats, oil, and grease (FOG) through public education and awareness. Campaign messaging is directed toward target audiences such as homeowners and apartment residents, schools, public works departments, restaurants, and hotels. The goal of the campaign is to educate these audiences to properly dispose of FOG and recycle used cooking oil, rather than pouring them down the drain, thereby reducing sanitary sewer overflows and harmful bacteria entering Galveston Bay.
The campaign originated through the City of Dallas’s Water Utilities division. Their campaign has shown measureable success in reducing FOG-related sanitary sewer overflows. The City of Dallas allowed their materials to be used to develop a Galveston Bay region campaign. The entire Galveston Bay Watershed extends past the Dallas region, and this campaign collaboration is a successful example of partnerships expanding up the length of this large watershed.
GBEP hosted the 10th State of the Bay Symposium: 20 Years of Successfully Preserving Galveston Bay in January 2016, in Galveston, Texas. Through science, collaborative partnerships, public education, and hard work, the GBEP and its partners have made great progress in protecting the bay’s ecological and economic health—as well as the public health.
The Symposium had over 300 attendees and more than 80 presenters and panelists. It combined plenary sessions with keynote speakers and four concurrent sessions to address coastal and estuarine restoration and management, in all habitats, at all scales throughout the Galveston Bay region. A pre-symposium field trip gave stakeholders the opportunity to visit some vital partner projects on Galveston Island.
The Ghirardi Family WaterSmart Park, located in the heart of a League City, Texas neighborhood, was completed in the spring of 2014. The project is a partnership of the GBEP, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Texas Coastal Watershed Program, the TCEQ’s Nonpoint Source Program, and the City of League City. This facility is designed to showcase seven different stormwater best management practices (BMPs) appropriate for use at homes or businesses. It includes a green roof, rain gardens, pervious paver parking lot, a rain-water harvesting cistern, a swale, a vegetated buffer, and a compost-on-turf-grass demonstration plot. The park also offers traditional park amenities to the community such as a pavilion, walking trails, and a playground. Researchers with Texas AgriLife Extension conduct testing of the stormwater BMPs to evaluate how effective each BMP is at improving water quality.