Arroyo Colorado

Agricultural NPS Pollution Education

Project Overview

Funding Source

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

Background

The Arroyo Colorado is located in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.  It extends eastward for about 90 miles beginning near the City of Mission through southern Hidalgo County to the City of Harlingen in Cameron County, eventually discharging into the Lower Laguna Madre near the Cameron-Willacy county line.  The land that drains into the Arroyo Colorado is known as the Arroyo Colorado Watershed and is approximately 706 square miles.  The Arroyo Colorado not only serves as a natural habitat, fishery and recreational waterway, but with its multiple land uses it also serves a very important purpose of draining runoff and return flows from both urban wastewater discharges and agricultural irrigation as well as stormwater runoff and base flows from groundwater.  Agriculture and municipalities are the two primary water users in the watershed and flow in the Arroyo Colorado is primarily sustained by agricultural irrigation return flows and wastewater discharges; thus, the Arroyo Colorado serves as a conveyer of this water as it leaves the system. 

The tidal segment of the Arroyo Colorado was first listed as having low levels of dissolved oxygen in 1996 and elevated levels of bacteria in 2006 (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 2013) while the above tidal segment was listed in 1996 for having elevated levels of bacteria. To address the Arroyo Colorado’s bacteria and dissolved oxygen impairment as well as nutrient concerns, the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership developed A Watershed Protection Plan for the Arroyo Colorado – Phase I. The WPP, which was released in 2007, included recommendations from five major workgroups: wastewater infrastructure; agricultural issues; habitat restoration; water quality monitoring; and education and outreach.  The Arroyo Colorado Agricultural Issues Workgroup, made up of local, state, and federal stakeholders, recommended that education and outreach be one of the priorities for implementation. 

 Agriculture is the predominant land use and successful implementation of the Watershed Protection Plan relies heavily on reaching the milestones set forth by the Agricultural Issues Workgroup.  Voluntary adoption of BMPs to reduce suspended sediment levels resulting from cropland erosion, BOD (oxygen demanding organic material) from runoff of crop residue, and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer runoff from irrigated cropland fields are crucial to improving water quality. To accomplish this goal, TSSWCB has funded numerous projects providing technical and financial assistance through the SWCDs, most recently TSSWCB project 15-53 entitled Delivering Education Programs Focused on Stakeholder Needs to Address Agricultural NPS in the Arroyo Colorado. Given that goals are still not met, it is imperative that efforts to reach producers and encourage adoption of WQMPs and BMPs be increased.  Outreach and education for agricultural producers is a critical component to achieve voluntary implementation of BMPs.

Project Description

This project will primarily continue efforts from TSSWCB 10-11, but the educational program will focus on two topics; first to provide the most up to date information on technical and financial assistance from federal, state and local agencies and second to highlight local success stories of producers currently implementing conservation practices.  As indicated from a recent evaluation of agricultural producers a lack of awareness about technical and financial assistance programs, as well as lack of opportunity to see conservation practices’ effectiveness are two of the main barriers to adoption.  By focusing educational efforts on these two topics those barriers will be addressed first-hand.  Focusing on success stories of local producers will not only provide an opportunity for others to learn about the various conservation practices that can help improve soil health and water quality, but they will also see first-hand that these practices are effective here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 

Improving and maintaining soil health plays a key role in reducing pollutant loads in the Arroyo Colorado.  To draw attention to the topic of soil health, a soil testing campaign will be held in the Fall/Winter of 2014/2015, allowing producers within Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties to receive soil analysis free of charge.  The soil testing campaign will be promoted via press release in local newspapers, online news sources, radio, direct mailings, social media, as well as flyers posted at local farm and ranch stores.  The Extension Assistant will be available to assist with interpreting soil testing results if requested. 

As this is a continuation of an existing project a producer mailing list already exists, but the Extension Assistant will continue to develop that list as new contacts are made as well as utilize contacts within other agencies to distribute information to their existing mailing lists.  These mailing lists will be used to inform producers about the availability of technical and financial assistance, upcoming educational programs, field demonstration and trials.  The Extension Assistant will work closely with NRCS, FSA, TSSWCB, SWCD, Irrigation Districts and Drainage Districts to help promote their activities and educational programs as well as be available to give presentations and help host/organize programs as requested.

The Extension Assistance will update existing BMP materials and develop new materials if needed that focus on priority BMPs and promote the adoption of those practices.  A review of all existing BMP material will be done to ensure that all materials have the most current and up to date information to reflect new practices and any changes in technical and financial assistance programs due to the passing of the most recent farm bill.  An existing manual, Irrigation Training Program: South Texas Edition will be revised to suit the needs of the Rio Grande Valley.  Although entitled South Texas Edition, the manual was not written for deep south Texas.  This manual will be a guide for producers on all relevant methods of irrigation, their installation costs, water use efficiency and economic analysis.  Again, water quantity and practices to reduce water use ranked high in an evaluation of agricultural producers’ educational needs.  Updating this manual to include current information tailored to the Lower Rio Grande Valley would cover both of these educational needs that producer have voiced as highly important to them.  In addition, revising the manual would allow for the possibility of offering an irrigation training workshop in the future, where we could use the manual as curriculum and bring in experts to present on the various topics.

The essential objective of this project is to educate agricultural producers in the Arroyo Colorado Watershed about the impairments facing the Arroyo Colorado and what they can do to help improve not only the quality of water, but soil health and their overall operations.  To do so the Extension Assistant will be readily accessible for meetings, and deliver education programs and workshops about the Arroyo Colorado Watershed and the impairments it faces.  Education materials will be distributed at these meetings and education programs as well as by direct mailings and through social media.  In addition to hosting education programs and field demonstrations, the Extension Assistant will be available to help other partners like NRCS, FSA, etc. plan, organize and promote their own programs.  Communication on a regular basis will ensure efforts are not duplicated and the most up to date information is reaching agricultural producers in the area.  The Extension Assistant will work closely with NRCS to publicize their renewed emphasis on soil health.  Particularly by identifying producers already working with NRCS and enlisting them for programs and field tours to showcase the conservation practices they are using and highlight their success.   
Project Tasks

Task 1: Project Administration

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

Task 2: Developing and Updating Educational Materials

To ensure that only the most relevant information is being delivered to agricultural producers and that the messages is consistent across collaborating agencies.

Task 3: Conduct Education and Outreach to Increase Landowner Participation in Technical and Financial Assistance Programs

To host educational events and field days as well as evaluate educational program effectiveness.  Distribute educational materials that encourage the use best management practices and promote the technical and financial assistance programs that support them.  Further, objectives are to contact landowners through direct mailings, direct contact and support and participate in entity meetings and other demonstrations.

Task 4: Organize and Promote Participation in Soil Testing Campaign 

To host and advertise the soil testing campaign that will help producers meet requirements of various management practices and incentive programs; as well as to promote interest in soil health and management. 

Reports
Project Personnel

Jaime Flores
Watershed Coordinator, AgriLife Extension Service
956.968.5581
jjflores@ag.tamu.edu

Ruben Saldana
District Extension Administrator, District 12
956.968.5581
rjsaldana@ag.tamu.edu

Ashley Gregory
Extension Program Assistant, TWRI
956.968.5581
ahgregory@ag.tamu.edu

Contact

Ashley Gregory
Extension Program Assistant, TWRI
956.968.5581
ahgregory@ag.tamu.edu