Arroyo Colorado

ACWP Sustainability

Project Overview
Scope of Work

Funding Source

Funding provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as part of a Clean Water Act Section 319(h) Grant.

Problem/Need Statement

The Arroyo Colorado flows through Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy Counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of Texas into the Laguna Madre (Figure 1). As a result of low dissolved oxygen levels, the tidal segment of the Arroyo Colorado (2201) does not currently meet water quality standards that support aquatic life as designated by the State of Texas and described in the Water Quality Standards. This has been the case for every 303(d) List prepared by the state since 1996. There have also been concerns for high nutrient levels in this river as documented on every 305(b) assessment prepared by the state since 1998. In order to meet the dissolved oxygen criteria (24-hour average of 4.0 mg/L and minimum of 3.0 mg/L) at least 90% of the time between the critical period of March through October, the TCEQ (2003) estimates a 90% reduction in nitrogen, phosphorous, oxygen demanding substances and sediment will be necessary.

In response to this impairment, a local effort was initiated to develop a WPP to improve water quality conditions in the Arroyo Colorado. Working with the TCEQ, the TSSWCB, and other agencies, a local steering committee has devised and begun to implement strategies to improve dissolved oxygen levels in the Arroyo and improve its environmental conditions.

The consensus-based, local effort began in July 2003 with the formation of the ACWP. The ACWP Steering Committee, consisting of local stakeholders and agency representatives, and workgroups provided direction for the ACWP in development of the Arroyo Colorado WPP. Texas Sea Grant College Program and the AgriLife Extension Service facilitated and coordinated the development of the WPP through funding provided by TCEQ through a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 319(h) grant. The WPP included five major components: Wastewater Infrastructure; Agricultural Issues; Habitat Restoration; Further Study and Monitoring/ Refinement of TMDL Analysis; and E & O. The five workgroups developed recommendations for each of their components including action items that will improve water quality. As a result of their efforts, the “WPP for the Arroyo Colorado, Phase I” was developed and released in 2007. Already, the stakeholders have made great progress.

Habitat Restoration and Wastewater Infrastructure: To enhance wastewater infrastructure and water quality treatment, the Cities of San Juan, San Benito, and La Feria developed projects to enhance water quality through the design, construction, maintenance, operation, and monitoring of wetlands that will receive treated effluent from municipal wastewater treatment facilities and stormwater runoff.  The City of La Feria has completed the construction of a wetland that is a water feature in a regional city park being developed with funding assistance from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  The City of San Juan has completed (ribbon cutting was on April 22, 2010) a seven-acre wetland and nature trail park that will filter an average of 125,000 gallons of treated effluent per day and will result in cleaner water being discharged into the Arroyo.  To enhance water quality and create a native plant and animal habitat, the City of San Benito has completed construction on a 4 acre site at a waste water treatment plant that will polish the treated effluent before being discharged into the local tributary that flows into the Arroyo Colorado.

Water Quality Monitoring: To assess the implementation of the WPP, the Nueces River Authority (NRA) and the International Boundary and Water Commission and U.S. Geological Survey conducts routine water quality monitoring of the Arroyo Colorado at 12 sites.  The TSSWCB has provided funds to conduct edge-of-field monitoring at select sites that shall not be released due to privacy issues to assess the effectiveness of agricultural BMPs.  Additionally the TSSWCB funded the development of a new Land Use-Land Cover map to reflect the many land use changes in the rapidly growing watershed.  The map is being used to more accurately characterize and model the watershed and assess loadings as researchers are using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to simulate the current sediment, Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), and nutrient loadings in the Arroyo Colorado watershed. Data was collected for input into the SWAT model and following model calibration and validation, the modeling component of this project should be completed by March of 2011.

Agricultural Issues: In a watershed where agriculture is the primary land use, BMP implementation to protect water quality by agricultural producers is a high priority.  Agricultural producers have received guidance and support from Extension, TSSWCB, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) and the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) in the form of education, cost-share and technical assistance to install BMPs.  Educational events have reached more than 3,500 producers, and over 340 producers have developed and implemented a water quality management plan (WQMP) on over 65,000 acres in the watershed.

Outreach and Education: A physical watershed model, provided in part by the NRA, serves as an excellent hands-on educational tool for youths and adults.  Because of the high demand for the watershed model, NRA submitted and was awarded a grant to build a second watershed model.  The new model was completed and picked up at the end of July. Over 22,000 individuals in the watershed have viewed the model to learn about their local watershed, their impact on water quality and how they can be better stewards of the land.  The ACWC and the Stormwater Task Force liaison presented the model to thousands of students at over 24 local schools and also partnered on other outreach efforts.  More than 1,000 storm drain markers reading “No Dumping, Drains to Laguna Madre,” were installed.  The 14 Task Force cities are planning to take inventory of the storm drain markers in each city that have not been labeled.  They plan to have a stencil or storm drain marker event every year on Earth Day until all storm drains in all of the cities have been labeled.  The Partnership along with Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), have installed 10 road signs marking the watershed boundary on major entry points to the watershed and there are plans for an additional 37 signs to be installed leading up to Earth Day.

Although great progress has been made with regard to the implementation of the WPP, there are still many goals that need to be met in order to reach maximum achievable water quality.  The WPP was written with short-term (through 2010) and long-term goals (through 2015) listed and current efforts are still currently meeting the majority of short-term milestones given the limited time that a completed WPP has been in place. The watershed coordinator, over the past two years, has primarily focused on promoting the adoption of the WPP by local stakeholders, implementing measures listed within the plan and establishing partnerships to enhance and increase outreach activities.

As a result of the intense focus on implementing the WPP, less focus has been given to sustainability of the partnership through local support. While cities, counties, and organizations within the watershed have bought into implementing the WPP and even provided support in the form of time through volunteering and individual self-funded programs, there has been little to no fiscal support for the ACWP from these local entities. A sound strategy for sustaining the Partnership beyond federal funding was not clearly outlined in the WPP or in the original implementation workplan and therefore, efforts to build local funding and sustain the Partnership have been lacking during WPP implementation.  An immense amount of work and funding have been put toward the Arroyo Colorado Watershed and a great deal of progress has been made with those funds and time.  It is imperative that the sustainability of the Partnership be obtained so that this community may continue to be served and educated and the watershed may continue to see improvement. 

The Steering Committee members for the ACWP have approved the appropriate steps and work is now progressing toward the self-sustainability of the partnership. Local funds will be able to be collected by the 501(c)3 upon approval of the non-profit to be titled Arroyo Colorado Conservancy. The work outlined in this proposal will allow for the adequate time to transition from the Partnership being federally funded to becoming locally funded as well as meeting the goals of the WPP. 

General Project Description

This project will work to establish a sustainable program through local financial and technical support to continue the implementation of the Arroyo Colorado WPP that facilitates the involvement of the Partnership and relies on the guidance of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Coordinator.

The watershed coordinator will provide structure/encouragement for continued stakeholder participation and involvement; arrange and facilitate Arroyo Colorado Watershed Steering Committee meetings; ensure activities of work groups are consistent with goals and objectives of the Arroyo Colorado Steering Committee and will advance the goals of implementing individual components of the Arroyo Colorado WPP.

The watershed coordinator will also facilitate implementation of the WPP through E & O activities in the Arroyo Colorado watershed, and other activities designed to promote private and public support for the implementation of the WPP.  The watershed coordinator will identify local, regional and national groups and agencies planning, or engaging in activities with goals similar to those of the ACWP and, to the highest extent practicable, coordinate and integrate the efforts of the ACWP with the activities of the groups identified.  The outreach campaign, described in the WPP, will be implemented by working closely with TAES Specialists, TAES agents and administrative personnel, and other agencies and groups.  An evaluation of the outreach campaign effectiveness will also be conducted in order to improve future outreach activities.    The watershed coordinator will also be responsible for facilitating and coordinating implementation of agricultural pollution control measures, recommended measures described in the habitat component and the wastewater infrastructure pollution control measures, which are all outlined in the WPP. 

The ACWP Sustainability group and SC have adopted a new “model” for sustainability of the ACWP.  The first phase of the new model called for the ACWP to apply for 501(c)3 non-profit group status which is already in the process of being set up.  Once the ACWP has gained the 501(c)3 status, as the “Arroyo Colorado Conservancy”, the ACC will be able to solicit local funds from individuals, private companies, environmental groups and sportsman associations that share the same goals as the ACWP.  This would also enable ACWP steering committee members and the watershed coordinator to take a more active role as fundraisers for the ACWP.  The watershed coordinator will develop levels of support and membership for private and public financial assistance or sponsorship as well as a fundraising plan to outline the most probable way for sustainability. 

Through the ACC, the ACWP plans to collect 50% of the funds necessary to support the Watershed Coordinator position in year 3 to reduce the position’s federal dependency as it transitions into a locally supported position.  The long range goal of the ACWP would be reduce the reliance on federal funds until it can operate with little or no federal assistance.   

An AgriLife Extension publication titled Water Issues in Texas: A Survey of Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Water states that “educators, technicians, scientists and policy makers must understand the viewpoints of citizens if they wish to engage them in discussions and decisions about water. It is these attitudes, in combination with social connections and social pressures that motivate citizen action to protect land and water resources.” If we are able to understand the social impact of the WPP or where to target our efforts, then we can be more successful in getting the message across about the importance of BMP adoption and how each stakeholder can help improve the water quality.

In this project, ALEC will also work closely with the local AgriLife County Extension Agents during the duration of the project to conduct surveys, assess producer gain in knowledge of the ACWP efforts and environmental needs and determine how producer needs can be met that will allow them to further adopt BMPs as well as work with other interest groups in similar efforts. ALEC will also formulate a report that will present the results of the above mentioned and determine the increase in watershed knowledge among stakeholders within the Arroyo Colorado as a result of WPP implementation.

Annual accomplishments are crucial in keeping stakeholders engaged in the implementation process. In this project, an Annual Accomplishment Report will be written and the overall milestones table in the Arroyo Colorado WPP will be updated annually.

The current WPP timeline of milestones will be assessed for accuracy and updated to provide a realistic representation of when maximum achievable water quality can be expected to be reached.

An annual budget showing local or private sponsorship as well as a long-term plan to sustain the Arroyo Colorado Partnership will be provided to the TCEQ.  A draft and final report will be submitted summarizing all project activities, findings, and the contents of all previous deliverables referencing and/or attaching them as web-links or deliverables.

Project Tasks

Task 1: Project Administration

Objective: To effectively administer, coordinate, and monitor all work performed under this project including technical and financial supervision and preparation of status reports.

Task 2: WPP Accomplishment Reporting

Objective: Annual accomplishments are crucial in keeping stakeholders engaged in the implementation process of a WPP. This task will report the accomplishments on an annual basis as well as update the overall milestones table in the Arroyo Colorado WPP.

Task 3:Continued WPP Implementation

Objective: The ACWC will facilitate stakeholder and workgroup meetings as well as implementation of the WPP through E & O activities in the Arroyo Colorado Watershed, and other activities designed to promote private and public support for the implementation of the WPP. The ACWC will identify local, regional and national groups and agencies planning, or engaging in activities with goals similar to those of the ACWP and, to the highest extent practicable, coordinate and integrate the efforts of the ACWP with the activities of the groups identified.

ALEC will work with the ACWC and local AgriLife Extension Agents to develop surveys to further measure each of the various interest groups as well as help track implementation measures.

Task 4: Sustain the ACWP

Objective: The ACWC will work with local private and public entities to develop a sustainable program established through local financial and technical support.

Task 5: Final Project Report

Objective: To produce a Final Report that summarizes project all activities completed and conclusions reached, and that contains all the reports completed under previous tasks either in the text or as appendices.

Project Personnel

Allen Berthold
Project Manager, TWRI

Jaime Flores
Watershed Coordinator, AgriLife Extension Service

Ruben Saldana
District Extension Administrator, District 12

Jeff Ripley
Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist


Allen Berthold
Project Manager, TWRI

Jaime Flores
Watershed Coordinator, AgriLife Extension Service