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The TCEQ Creates Office of Water

To enhance the agency’s focus on the challenges facing Texas with respect to water quality and quantity, the TCEQ created the Office of Water, which brings together the divisions of Water Quality, Water Quality Planning, and Water Supply. (Natural Outlook, Summer 2010)

In this article:

Agency Enhances Its Focus on Water Quality and Water Quantity

Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. And as our population climbs, the demand for water will increase. Ensuring a plentiful, clean water supply for the state’s growing population will be a major challenge for years to come.

“The new office recognizes that the state’s population is expected to double in the next 30 years, so the agency must put even more focus on water issues, to ensure that there will be adequate water quality and quantity for future demand.”

– Chairman Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D.

To enhance the agency’s focus on the challenges facing Texas with respect to water quality and quantity, in late 2009 the TCEQ created the Office of Water, which brings together the divisions of Water Quality, Water Quality Planning, and Water Supply.

“The new office recognizes that the state’s population is expected to double in the next 30 years,” says Chairman Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D. “So the agency must put even more focus on water issues, to ensure that there will be adequate water quality and quantity for future demand.”

Office of Water’s First Deputy Director

Serving as the first deputy director of the Office of Water is L’Oreal W. Stepney, P.E.

Stepney, who has worked for the TCEQ and its predecessor agencies since 1992, brings a wealth of experience to the position. She has a long track record of managing and directing agency programs—she has served as a technical specialist and manager in air permitting, as section manager in the Wastewater Permitting Section, as director of the Water Quality Division, and as assistant deputy director for the Office of Permitting and Registration. She holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

For Stepney, it has been rewarding to see the excitement on the part of staff members about the new Office of Water, as well as their commitment to function as a team, focusing on the mission of the agency.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to lead such a group of highly competent and talented professionals who use their expertise in their day-to-day work taking care of the state’s water resources,” Stepney says. “Communication and information sharing across the water programs have increased even more since the creation of the office. I’m very excited about the opportunities for the new office to serve the citizens of Texas.”

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Photograph of the Office of Water Management Team

Standing (left to right): Office of Water Technical Assistant Todd Chenoweth, Office of Water Special Assistant Kim Wilson, Office of Water Special Counsel Kevin McCalla, Water Quality Division Director Charles Maguire. Seated (left to right) Water Quality Planning Division Director Kelly Keel, Office of Water Deputy Director L’Oreal Stepney, Water Supply Division Director Linda Brookins.
Standing (left to right): Office of Water Technical Assistant Todd Chenoweth, Office of Water Special Assistant Kim Wilson, Office of Water Special Counsel Kevin McCalla, Water Quality Division Director Charles Maguire. Seated (left to right) Water Quality Planning Division Director Kelly Keel, Office of Water Deputy Director L’Oreal Stepney, Water Supply Division Director Linda Brookins.
TCEQ photo by Annette Berksan.

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Office of Water Priorities

“There are 6,900 public water systems in our state,” says TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery. “Making sure the water that comes through these systems is clean and healthy is a priority of the TCEQ and is critically important to many, many Texans.”

Several high-priority projects are under way in the Office of Water, such as revising the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards and participating in the implementation of the Environmental Flows Process (Senate Bill 3, 80th Texas Legislative Session). In addition, the Office of Water is focusing on national issues that may affect water quality and quantity in Texas.

“We also have a priority initiative to reduce permit time frames, so that permits are processed as expeditiously as possible,” says Stepney.

“Continuing to provide great customer service is important to me and is a major emphasis for the Office of Water,” she says. “We will strive to be efficient, accessible, and technically sound. It is also important to establish great partnerships and work closely with communities and stakeholders to achieve our priorities.”

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One Vision, One Voice

Consolidating the agency’s water monitoring, permitting, planning, and assessment functions into one office has the added benefit of creating one point of contact for questions regarding wastewater, groundwater, surface water, and water rights.

“Water planning, water supply, and water quality are all issues that are important to the future of our state.”

– Commissioner Buddy Garcia

“This is an important step,” says Commissioner Buddy Garcia. “Water planning, water supply, and water quality are all issues that are important to the future of our state.”

“The response from stakeholders and the public has been positive,” says Stepney. “And internal groups see it as a real plus. Working in a collaborative effort, such as with the Office of Water team, encourages integrated solutions to the challenges facing Texas. We are able to maximize staff resources and knowledge.”

“We are all on the same page,” she adds. “We are moving in the same direction with the same vision. It’s great to have one voice.”

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Water Quality Division

The Water Quality (WQ) Division, which is responsible for protecting the quality of water in Texas, comprises a skilled team of engineers, aquatic scientists, geologists, agronomists, and technical support staff.

“Our principal function is to issue wastewater permits,” says the division’s director, Charles Maguire. “We also handle storm water permits and permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).”

Automated permit services, available online through ePermits, allow customers to complete a form, pay an application fee, and get approval in 30 minutes or less.

“We’ve been very successful with ePermits,” says Maguire. “We offer electronic renewals for the general CAFO permit, and some of the storm water program permits are available for renewal electronically. That increases our hours of operation to 24-7, 365 days a year.”

In addition to handling permits, the WQ division is responsible for implementing standards for surface water quality and for updating the Water Quality Management Plan, which provides long-range planning and technical data for the water quality management activities that are required under the Texas Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act.

Maguire feels that the consolidation has enhanced the division’s ability to develop integrated solutions and efficiencies for resource use, and has also enhanced communication.

“We have a common body of stakeholders,” he says, “and coming from a single office, the communication with those stakeholders is much more focused.”

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Water Quality Planning Division

When you want to know anything that has to do with maintaining or improving the quality of the state’s surface waters, you need to talk to the TCEQ’s Water Quality Planning Division.

“We are responsible for everything from establishing water quality standards, to monitoring surface quality, to addressing water bodies that do not meet the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards,” says the division’s director, Kelly Keel.

Water running over rocks in the Frio River.
When you want to know anything that has to do with maintaining or improving the quality of the state’s surface waters, you need to talk to the TCEQ’s Water Quality Planning Division.
Photo of Frio River courtesy of TxDOT.

“We are in the process of revising the standards,” she adds. “The rules have been proposed and should be final this summer.”

The division also maintains a considerable amount of data about surface water in Texas. This includes continuous monitoring and water flow data on rivers, streams, bays, estuaries, and reservoirs.

The Texas Clean Rivers Program, the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program in Corpus Christi, and the Houston Laboratory are all part of the Water Quality Planning Division.

Keel feels that communication is the key to success, both externally and internally, and is gratified that the consolidation has helped to give the agency one consistent voice.

“We are able to more effectively communicate our water strategies within the Office of Water,” she says, “which means we can communicate more effectively with people outside the agency.”

Engaging stakeholders, landowners, interested parties, and local communities in determining the best way to improve water quality is important.

“We want them to be involved and know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” says Keel. “We are committed to working with the public and listening to people’s concerns.”

“We can be successful in managing the state’s surface water,” she adds, “and we want people to participate in that success.”

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Water Supply Division

“Ensuring a safe, adequate water supply for Texans is one of the Water Supply Division’s many responsibilities,” says the division’s director, Linda Brookins.

To accomplish this, the division assesses and protects sources of public drinking water, offers technical assistance on the design and operation of public water systems, and oversees the production, treatment, quality, and delivery of public drinking water.

In 2009, large portions of the state experienced a prolonged drought, which put a strain on water supplies. Division staff, who evaluate water conservation plans and drought contingency plans, played a major role in making sure that water was available.

“Over the past several years, much of the state experienced a fierce drought. Our agency’s response to the people and communities that suffered from this event was extraordinary, and this new Office of Water will ensure that we provide an even higher and more focused level of response.”

– Commissioner and former Rio Grande Watermaster Carlos Rubinstein

“The drought was a big issue, especially for our water rights permitting group,” says Brookins. “Staff assisted with successful response to a senior water rights call in the Brazos Basin and helped water systems across the state with their drought implementation plans.”

Public outreach and volunteer programs—such as the Texas Source Water Protection Program and the Texas Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (TXWARN)—also help the division in the performance of its responsibilities.

“TXWARN is a really great network of public and private water and wastewater utilities,” says Brookins. “If a facility is damaged by a natural disaster such as a hurricane, others in the network help out with equipment or personnel.”

The Water Supply Division also provides administrative and technical support for the environmental flows allocation process, a process created by the Texas Legislature to provide science- and policy-based flow recommendations.

Brookins says the consolidation has had a positive impact. “The three divisions in the Office of Water affect each other,” she says. “Being in the same group allows us to coordinate on a consistent basis and to get issues resolved in a timely manner.”

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Focused Level of Response

Stepney emphasizes that the goals for the Office of Water include making balanced decisions based on sound science, proactively working with stakeholders to implement programs, continuing to develop and train staff, providing accurate and prompt communication, increasing the use of technology to help gain efficiencies, and working for the people of Texas on water issues.

“Over the past several years, much of the state experienced a fierce drought,” says Commissioner and former Rio Grande Watermaster Carlos Rubinstein. “Our agency’s response to the people and communities that suffered from this event was extraordinary, and this new Office of Water will ensure that we provide an even higher and more focused level of response.”

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Office of Water Programs

The Office of Water is responsible for the implementation of the following major programs:

  • Public drinking water
  • Water rights
  • Districts and utilities
  • Groundwater protection
  • Wastewater, storm water, and concentrated animal feeding operation permitting
  • Pretreatment
  • Surface water quality monitoring
  • Watershed protection plans and total maximum daily loads (TMDLs)
  • Galveston Bay Estuary Program
  • Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program
  • Texas Surface Water Quality Standards
  • Non-point Source Program

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