Arroyo Colorado

Agricultural Nonpoint Source Assessment

Project Overview

Scope of Work

Funding Source

Funding provided by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board as part of a Clean Water Act Section 319(h) Grant.


The Arroyo Colorado flows through Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy Counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas into the Laguna Madre (Figure 1). Flow in the Arroyo Colorado is sustained by wastewater discharges, agricultural irrigation return flows, urban runoff, and base flows from shallow groundwater. The Arroyo is the major source of fresh water to the lower Laguna Madre, an economically and ecologically important resource to the region. The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and several county and city parks are located within the Arroyo watershed. The mild climate, semi-tropical plants and animals, and many recreational opportunities draw large numbers of people to the Arroyo Colorado watershed. One third of the stream is also used for shipping from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Port of Harlingen.

As a result of low dissolved oxygen levels, the tidal segment of the Arroyo Colorado (2201), does not currently meet the aquatic life use 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 1986. There have also been concerns for high nutrient levels in this river as documented on every 305(b) assessment prepared by the state since 1988. 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, 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 has been initiated to develop a watershed protection plan (WPP) to improve conditions in the Arroyo Colorado. Working with the TCEQ, the TSSWCB, and other agencies, a local steering committee will devise and implement strategies to increase dissolved oxygen in the Arroyo and improve its environmental condition.

The Arroyo Colorado Watershed Steering Committee has established several work groups to address the six major components of the watershed plan: wastewater infrastructure; agricultural issues; habitat restoration; refinement of the TMDL analysis; land use; and public education. The project has significant financial support from federal nonpoint source grants under CWA Section 319(h). Already, the stakeholders have made great progress. The Education and Outreach Work Group has developed an outstanding multimedia presentation about pollution problems in the Arroyo and how to get involved in addressing them. In May 2004, the TCEQ and the Habitat Restoration Work Group established contracts with Texas A&M's Sea Grant program and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to provide an independent watershed coordinator and a habitat restoration specialist to assist in the development of the WPP. TPWD has contracted with Alan Plummer Associates, Inc. to develop a habitat restoration feasibility study. Funding for this study was obtained from NOAA through GLO. A Draft Wastewater Infrastructure plan has been developed. In September 2005, the TSSWCB and the Agricultural Issues Work Group established contracts with (1) Hidalgo and Southmost SWCDs to provide technical and financial assistance to landowners to aid in the development and implementation of WQMPs and (2) the Texas Water Resources Institute and Texas AgriLife Extension Service to provide education on best management practices. The Draft WPP is expected to be completed February 2006.

Goals and Objectives

The primary focus of this 319(h) project is to better characterize agricultural runoff in the Arroyo Colorado, assess and demonstrate the effects of BMP implementation at the field and sub-watershed level, and measure progress towards meeting WPP goals. A secondary focus is to evaluate the natural phosphorus reduction capabilities of drainage ditches on runoff from irrigated cropland in the Arroyo Colorado watershed.

This project will provide storm and routine monitoring of drainage ditches that contribute nonpoint source loadings to the Arroyo Colorado in order to better assess agricultural NPS loadings and reductions resulting from BMP implementation. Monitoring will primarily be directed at evaluating areas with significant irrigated cropland acreage to evaluate nonpoint source pollution (NPS) contributions and determine NPS reductions resulting from BMPs.

A final report will be developed assessing the effects of the conservation practices. Soil sampling and water quality monitoring will be utilized to gauge the impacts on water quality.

This project will be consistent with the Watershed Protection Plan and highly coordinated with the Arroyo Partnership and Arroyo Ag Steering Committee as well as the educational and implementation projects already underway in the watershed. These groups and projects will provide for a great deal of public participation and many opportunities for public input.

In this project, TAMUK and TAES will provide assessment activities at 4 sub-watershed sites within the Arroyo Colorado:

  • Mile 4 North FM 491 in Hidalgo County (Lat. 26 06 47.8758, Long -97 53 27.8602)
  • +/- 3 miles north of the intersection of US Military Highway 281 and 493 in Hidalgo County (Lat. 26 06 44.6665, Long -98 02 14.987)
  • Harding Ranch Road approximately 3 miles north of 508 and 1420 in Cameron County (Lat.26 16 47, Long 97 43 27)
  • ABD Road and FM 1479 about 4 miles south of Highway 83 in Cameron County (Lat. 26 08 06 Long 97 43 27)

The monitoring effort will make use of numerous automated sampling systems in TAMUK's possession that will be made available to this project. Historical or nondirect data obtained from other projects with QAPPs approved by EPA or the State of Texas will also be used to supplement this project. The data collected for this project will be used to determine the reduction of NPS pollution associated with implementation efforts and provide data to inform TSSWCB of areas where focused reduction efforts are most needed. This project will also support the educational efforts in the watershed.

The four sub-watersheds chosen for this study represent predominately irrigated cropland within the Arroyo watershed with two sites being located in Cameron County and two sites in Hidalgo County. The two stream sites in Cameron County were monitored from 2000 to 2002. The historical water quality data available at these sites will be made available as non-direct data to this project for use in the assessment of water quality.

The sub-watershed monitoring activities of this project will consist of automated stormwater sampling, monthly ambient grab sampling, and instantaneous streamflow measurements. Field measurements of dissolved oxygen, water temperature, specific conductance, and pH will occur with all grab sampling. Stormwater samples will be retrieved on a daily basis during storm events and flow composited into a single sample. All water samples will be analyzed for various nutrient forms (i.e., total phosphorus, dissolved orthophosphate phosphorus [frequently referred to as soluble reactive phosphorus], total Kjeldahl nitrogen, dissolved ammonia, dissolved nitrite plus nitrate), and total suspended sediments (TSS). In addition, monthly grab samples will be analyzed for BOD5. The nitrogen forms are included in the laboratory analyses to provide a more complete indication of macronutrient conditions in the watershed, to evaluate whether agricultural BMPs are reducing both nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), and to ensure that efforts to reduce one nutrient is not inadvertently increasing another.

This project will provide result demonstrations to landowners in the Arroyo Colorado watershed. This edge of field monitoring will represent both tiled and non-tiled irrigated cropland fields that drain to both drainage ditches and directly into the Arroyo. Surface runoff, along with outflow from the tile drainage system, will be monitored. Surface runoff and tile drain samples will be retrieved on an event basis and flow composited into a single sample. All water samples will be analyzed for various nutrient forms (i.e., total phosphorus, dissolved orthophosphate phosphorus [frequently referred to as soluble reactive phosphorus], total Kjeldahl nitrogen, dissolved ammonia, dissolved nitrite plus nitrate), and total suspended sediments (TSS). In addition, monthly grab samples will be analyzed for BOD5.

This project is dependent upon and is an important component of the larger project effort in the Arroyo Colorado described above. It is closely linked to the CWA ยง319 funded FY05 Arroyo BMP Education Project being conducted by TWRI and AgriLife Extension, the FY05 Arroyo WQMP Implementation Project being conducted by the TSSWCB and Hidalgo and Southmost SWCDs, and the Arroyo Watershed Coordination Project being conducted by TCEQ and Texas Sea Grant. The results of this study will be used to support ongoing educational and implementation efforts and future modeling efforts planned for the watershed.

Project Tasks

Task 1: Project Coordination and Administration

Objective: TWRI will organize an An Monitoring Oversight Committee to coordinate projrect efforts with all project participants. In addition, TWRI will ensure project goals are achieved in the manner proposed, summarize activities and achievements made throughout the course of the project by developing and submitting quarterly progress reports and a final report, hold regular meetings and maintain communication among all personnel involved.

Task 2: Compilation and Evaluation of Prior Studies and Data

Objective: TWRI, with assistance from members of the Ag Monitoring Oversight Committee, will compile historical water quality data and information from previous studies and conduct a detailed analysis of the most significant water quality parameters to investigate the trends and the different biological and physical process taking place in the watershed that contribute to changes in water quality in the Arroyo. These results will be organized and summarized for project participants to identify critical data gaps and these results will be provided to project personnel and for development of education materials.

Task 3: Inventory Conservation Practice Implementation

Objective: TAES-Temple, with assistance from TCE, USDA-NRCS, USDA-FSA, the TSSWCB Harlingen Regional Office, and the SWCDs, will identify all producers in the watershed, compile information on the location and types of Conservation Practices implemented in the Arroyo Colorado Watershed since 1995, assemble a geo-referenced database and develop a map (hard copy and electronic) displaying conservation practice implementation information collected, and transfer all information to use in targeting educational activities and identifying areas needing priority implementation work.

Task 4: Update Land Use/Land Cover Data

Objective: The Spatial Sciences Lab (SSL) will obtain data for the Arroyo Colorado Watershed including: 1998 LULC and major LULC changes since 1998; 2003 LANDSAT ETM+ Data, Path 26/ Row 42 and Path 27/ Row 42; applicable digital data on cropland from USDA - FSA; digital location data on citrus production from USDA-APHIS; digital data on locations of sugarcane fields from sugar mill; 2004 1m DOQ for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties; most recent digital data from irrigation districts; 1998 tile drainage data and if available, obtain updated data from TSSWCB and TCE; 1998 data on colonia and if available, obtain updated data from TWDB; 1998 data on non-colonia septic systems and if available, obtain updated data from Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC); and 1998 data on land Application and if available, obtain updated data from NPDES Permits.

Task 5: Develop Quality Assurance Project Plan

Objective: TWRI will develop a project QAPP and submit it to TSSWCB and EPA for approval. TWRI will and provide annual revisions and necessary amendments as needed.

Task 6: Perform Sub-Watershed Monitoring and Measure Pollutant Attenuation in Drainage Ditches

Objective: TAMUK will perform water quality monitoring and develop Stage-discharge relationships at four drainage ditch sites. The data will be summarized in a report. In addition, TAMUK will assess the ability of the drainage ditches to mitigate nitrogen and phosphorus and with this information, TAMUK, with assistance from TAES, will develop a suite of suitable BMPs.

Task 7: BMPs to Reduce NPS Pollution at the Farm Level

Objective: TCE, TAES-Weslaco, and TAMUK will select suitable demonstration sites to assess loadings from agricultural runoff and leachate produced by different BMPs and compare traditional practices with innovative BMP for the 3 most representative crops of the watershed at 6 representative sites. Runoff and leachate samples will be collected by TAES-Weslaco for the different practices and laboratory analyses will be performed to determine agricultural loadings such as nutrients and solutes. TCE will conduct one field day and one result demonstration per year to demonstrate and transfer the results to farmers and interested persons.

Task 8: Develop Final Report

Objective: TWRI, with assistance from TAES and TAMUK, will prepare final report for submittal to the TSSWCB.

Project Personnel
Dr. Narayanan Kannan
Assistant Research Scientist, Temple - Blackland Research and Extension Center
Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan
Professor and Director, Spatial Sciences Laboratory
Dr. Juan Enciso
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, BAEN
Xavier Peries
Extension Technician, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Dr. Venki Uddameri
Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Allen Berthold
Project Manager, TWRI
Allen Berthold
Project Manager, TWRI