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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories



Protecting the Edwards Aquifer -
Urban Development BMPs in Central Texas

The Edwards Aquifer is often described as amazing because it recharges so rapidly, has relatively high groundwater velocities, and large yields in springs and wells. Aquatic environments as far downstream as the Gulf Coast (about 150 miles) depend on springs that discharge from the Edwards Aquifer. The aquifer runs under nine counties and serves as the public water supply for numerous communities.

In 1975, the San Antonio portion of the aquifer was the first in the United States to receive EPA sole-source status; and in 1988, the northern Hays/southern Travis counties portion of the aquifer received the same designation. In recent years, development within the recharge zone has been very rapid.

Critical factors and regulations Three critical factors potentially affect the aquifer:

  • its rapid acceptance of recharging waters, either directly through karst features, or more circuitously as surface runoff percolating through soils or through a fractured vadose zone;
  • relatively rapid groundwater movement; and
  • rapid population growth over the San Antonio Austin region of the aquifer.

Because of the importance of the Edwards Aquifer to the population of central Texas, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and its predecessor agencies have regulated development over various portions of the aquifer since July 31, 1970, when the Texas Water Quality Board issued a board order designed to protect the quality of water entering the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The board seeks to identify and eliminate potential sources of pollution from developments prior to their construction.

Formal regulation of nonpoint source pollution in the recharge zone commenced in 1990 with a revision to the Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 313. Under the revised rules, individuals, developers, their agents, or government agencies seeking to develop property in the recharge zone must submit Water Pollution Abatement Plans for approval by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

These plans must include descriptions of proposed site disturbance and development, erosion and sediment control plans, a geologic assessment including recharge features, and a stormwater pollutant mitigation plan. As a condition of approval, the TNRCC may impose other site-specific provisions deemed necessary to protect the Edwards Aquifer from pollution. This process is supported by section 319 funding and carried out by the TNRCC's regional offices.

Changing behaviors and attitudes

Through the permitting process, developers, construction staff, engineers, and water quality specialists are educated in the application of best management practices (BMPs) for the prevention of nonpoint source pollution. While changing construction and development habits has not always been easy, there have been several positive changes in development activities over the recharge zone in recent years, and some innovative solutions to satisfy the requirements of Water Pollution Abatement Plan permits.

New developments use innovative practices

Two commercial developments in Travis County prove that stormwater BMPs can be attractive as well as efficient. At one development, an office complex, the engineer combined the natural slope of the land with good landscaping to treat the first 0.75 inches of stormwater at the site. This treatment uses grassy berms to form a sediment pond followed by a filtration area where grasses slow and filter the water before draining it into vertical filtration walls made of rock, peat, and sand. The system creates an overall impression of a gently rolling landscape, incorporating several beautiful live oak trees that were saved during construction.

Two sets of detention/filtration ponds catch runoff from both parking lots at the site. In addition, grassy berms have been constructed to conduct runoff from the building roofs into the filtration areas. Runoff in excess of the first 0.75 inches is diverted into three separate detention ponds. The project engineer estimates that the combined removal rate of the three treatment components will eliminate 95 percent of the total suspended solids, 75 percent of the total phosphorus, and 87 percent of oil and grease.

Another commercial development, a local plant nursery, uses two sets of landscaped detention and filtration ponds between its complex and the highway access road. The ponds are lined with attractive rock walls that hold the soil in place. Planter boxes at the top of the walls are filled with native shrubs. Two splitter boxes bring stormwater into the detention ponds, from which the water drains through a series of conduits into the filtration basins. These ponds treat the first 0.5 inches of stormwater from the nursery site. Data from the City of Austin's Environmental Quality Manual indicate that a structure of this type removes 70 percent of total suspended solids.

The environmental sensitivity of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone requires strict regulation of development in the recharge area. The activity of the TNRCC's regional offices in verifying and approving Water Pollution Abatement Plans is an important step in the process of preventing nonpoint source pollution in local receiving waters. In addition, the knowledge that the regional staff are following up on BMPs to ensure that they are properly maintained encourages business owners to keep these pollution prevention measures in good operating condition.

The transfer of technology that necessarily takes place as a part of this process also increases the use of pollution prevention practices in the recharge zone, and therefore provides additional protection for this critical natural resource.

CONTACT: Arthur Taller
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
(512) 239-4546

Clean Texas 2000 -
Urban Composting Program Meets Its Goals

The Clean Texas 2000 campaign, a pollution prevention program of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, has two major goals: to reduce the amount of wastes generated in the state and to educate all Texans about how their lifestyles affect the environment. The strategy for reaching these goals is to form a statewide network of partnerships (citizens, businesses, civic groups, schools, and government agencies) to reduce pollution, reclaim resources, and make our communities healthier and cleaner places in which to live.

The Urban Composting Project is part of this innovative pollution prevention program. It begins, as does the larger campaign, with the notion that individual Texans play a critical role in achieving waste reduction goals. Yard trimmings and vegetative food material account for over 20 percent of the trash going to landfills in Texas. However, if composted or recycled, these materials can be used as organic, environmentally friendly substitutes for home chemical fertilizers.

Too much chemical fertilizer in runoff from urban landscapes can cause algal growths and eutrophic conditions in aquatic ecosystems, especially lakes. The Master Composter and Centralized Compost Planning programs, a one-year project supported by a section 319 grant, were designed to address this issue by increasing composting and decreasing the use of chemical fertilizers. The project took a dual approach to reducing the waste stream: one part aimed at directly educating individual citizens; the other, at educating waste control professionals.

Citizens train to be master composters

The goal of the Master Composter Program was to teach a core group of individual citizens why and how to compost yard waste and how to pass their information on to other citizens, individually or in group settings. Volunteers committed to this program participated in 20 hours of formal instruction and performed 20 hours of community outreach to earn their certification.

The training sessions were conducted in partnership with other state agencies, regional planning agencies, or cities. The Master Composter Training Manual, Master Composter Program Planning Guide, and Resource Notebook were distributed to all participants. In a relatively short time, the program trained 116 people to be Master Composters; of these trainees, 32 have completed their public outreach hours and are certified Master Composters. By November 1995, these masters had trained another 3,951 citizens.

Several cities sign on

The Edwards Aquifer in Texas.
Click on picture to see larger image.

In the Centralized Compost Planning program, professionals responsible for planning and implementing waste management policies learned effective methods for setting up community composting plans. Participants in this program received instruction on collection, processing, and marketing strategies; equipment selection; facility siting and design issues; and regulatory compliance. Participants were also provided with a Centralized Composting Planning Notebook and a Compost Information Kit, including posters and brochures and other informational resources. This program trained 95 people.

The Urban Composting Project met or exceeded its original goals for the number of citizens trained and the production of project training materials. Its success in reducing water pollution was determined through surveys distributed to participants. Of those responding to the Master Composter Program survey, 30 percent reported using less fertilizer after their training. In the Centralized Compost Planning Program, the results were similar; 30 percent reported that they used less fertilizer after the training. All respondents to the surveys had stopped bagging lawn trimmings, which decreases the need for additional lawn fertilizers by 50 to 66 percent.

Urban composting is increasing through- out Texas. Local governments have embraced the initiative that began as a section 319 project and are now supporting urban composting without the need for federal money. So far, 15 communities have implemented, or have made plans to implement, the Master Composter Program. Several cities have expressed interest in beginning the program or in hosting training sessions on backyard composting in their cities. The cities of Beaumont, Bryan, and Big Springs have served as host cities for the training and technical assistance provided through the Centralized Composting Training Program. This project shows that Texas citizens are willing to comply voluntarily with practices that improve the environment if they are informed about reasons and benefits.

CONTACT: Arthur Taller
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
(512) 239-4546

Wellhead Protection Program -
Communities and Wellhead Protection Follow-up

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission Wellhead Protection (WHP) Program is the lead team for prevention of nonpoint source pollution to public groundwater supplies. With support of section 319 grant funds, the Wellhead Protection Program accomplishes this goal by delineating Wellhead Protection Areas to prevent groundwater contamination and offering guidance and technical assistance for conducting inventories of potential sources of contamination in the protection areas. The WHP program then assists communities in developing local ordinances to protect groundwater, and contingency plans for alternative water supplies.

In addition, the WHP program educates public water supply officials about best management practices (BMPs) available for the prevention, abatement, and remediation of nonpoint source pollution. Some of these BMPs include land-use management practices, local ordinances and permits, regulation of specific activities in the protection areas, and public awareness programs. The program encourages institutionalization of wellhead protection at the local level.

The Wellhead Protection Program of the TNRCC was established in Texas in 1987 with initiation of the nation's first WHP project in Del Rio, Texas. In 1988, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) began recruiting Texas cities that rely on groundwater for their public water supply into the WHP program. Since that time, more than 200 government entities have enrolled in Texas' voluntary WHP program. By making the program voluntary, the TNRCC has made it possible for local governing agencies to tailor the program to their specific needs and resources, implementing cost- effective BMPs with government assistance rather than by government mandate.

One of the early successes of the WHP program comes from the city of Rockdale, population 5,500, in Milam County. Rockdale joined the TNRCC's Wellhead Protection Program within the first year of its implementation. One of the first cities in the state to enact a Wellhead Protection Ordinance, Rockdale went on to develop and adopt the first Wellhead Protection Contingency Plan in Texas. Rockdale was also one of the first cities to erect WHP roadside markers. Fortunately for the city, these tools were in place when it had to respond to a chemical spill. Quick response and affirmative leadership prevented a potentially dangerous situation from escalating.

The City of Rockdale wrote their ordinance and contingency plan with technical assistance from the WHP program at the TNRCC. As a pioneer in the WHP program, the City of Rockdale constructed a model ordinance that describes and delineates their wellhead protection area, regulates water well drilling in the WHP area (which the state does not have the power to do), and mandates enforcement measures.

Because of Rockdale's leadership and competent planning, their ordinance and contingency plan are used as models for other Texas cities participating in the WHP program. Rockdale's plans have also been distributed to approximately 200 cities nationwide. As a result of these achievements, the City of Rockdale received the EPA Award for Environmental Excellence for its Wellhead Protection Program in 1994, and was the first city in Region 6 ever to receive such an award.

In 1993, the TNRCC WHP program began a project to follow up with WHP participants in the state to identify and document their voluntary implementation of WHP activities. This project was also supported by section 319 grant funds. In Texas, several public entities with varying degrees of legislative and enforcement powers have impact on and governing power over underground water supplies. This complexity can hinder the implementation of BMPs. Therefore, TNRCC determined that it should follow up with the communities that had enrolled in the original program, and reach out again to those communities that did not participate from the beginning of the program.

Questionnaires were sent to the 6,000 public water supply systems in Texas that rely wholly or in part on groundwater. The questionnaire asked respondents to identify and describe the BMPs their communities had implemented. In addition to providing information on voluntary compliance, the questionnaire also enabled TNRCC staff to identify those entities unfamiliar with the WHP program and those who needed additional assistance to complete implementation.

The follow-up study determined that throughout the state, approximately 62 percent of all WHP participants are involved in some form of BMP implementation. If participants who have been enrolled in the program for less than two years are excluded, the implementation rate jumps to 76 percent. Based on the trend of earlier WHP studies, the newer participants can be expected to implement their BMPs in one to two years. Measured against the original project goals, this is a good success rate, and compares favorably with compliance in regulated programs.

Voluntary implementation has been consistent and measurable under the Wellhead Protection Program, and the program's success has increased public awareness and use of other related TNRCC programs, such as Household Hazardous Waste Collections, Texas Country Cleanups (collection of agricultural chemicals), Empty Pesticide Container Recycling programs, and Citizens Monitoring, as these programs were selected by some entities for BMP implementation. These programs have shown that voluntary public service programs can surpass the milestones originally established by regulatory actions.

CONTACT: Arthur Taller
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
(512) 239-4546

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