Preserving and Improving Water Quality
An overview of how the TCEQ defines, measures, evaluates, and manages the quality of surface waters in Texas
The TCEQ monitors the quality of surface water to evaluate physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of aquatic systems. Water quality is monitored in relation to human health concerns, ecological condition, and designated uses.
The same methods must be used by everyone collecting water samples, using reliable procedures that yield repeatable results. This allows for comparison of data collected by different organizations.
Routine Monitoring Sites
The TCEQ assessed data from more than 4,900 stations to develop the 2012 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality, which describes the condition of waterways throughout the state and identifies impaired waters.
Continuous Monitoring Sites
The TCEQ continuously monitors water quality parameters at stations in selected watersheds throughout Texas.
In 2013, there were approximately 57 active continuous water quality monitoring stations throughout the state. Another five stations are planned.
Screenshot of Coordinated Monitoring Planning Tool
TCEQ partners with numerous organizations to develop a statewide monitoring schedule that includes approximately 1,800 active sampling sites.
The schedule is coordinated statewide by the TCEQ. In spring 2013, approximately 30 meetings were held all over the state to plan monitoring for the upcoming fiscal year.
Coordinated monitoring makes data collection more efficient by leveraging limited funds. Advantages of coordinated monitoring include:
- Eliminating duplication of effort, thereby saving resources.
- Increasing local participation in setting priorities and planning solutions.
- Ensuring consistent data quality for decision making.
Clean Rivers Program
Established in 1991, the Clean Rivers Program (CRP) is a very successful partnership between the TCEQ, regional water authorities, and the public.
Fifteen regional water authorities manage the program in 23 river and coastal basins.
The CRP is a hub for water quality information and coordination of monitoring efforts and public participation, for each river basin.
CRP partners collect more than 60% of water quality data used by TCEQ.
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Standards and Assessment
In order to protect water quality, we must first define and measure it. So we first define standards. A water quality standard is the combination, or pairing, of a use and associated criteria. Uses are the purposes for which the water should be suitable. Criteria are the indicators used to determine whether quality is good enough to support the uses.
All standards are protective; that is, they signal a situation where there is some possibility that water quality may be inadequate to support its designated uses.
Measuring water quality requires reliable, consistent, quality-assured data. Those data are collected and shared through the SWQMIS—the Surface Water Quality Monitoring Information System.
Every two years, we report the status of Texas’ natural waters, based on historical data, in the Texas Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality.
Assessed area in Texas
- 1,444,021 reservoir acres
- 23,504 stream miles
- 4,094 square miles of estuaries
- 7,899 square miles of recreational beaches
Over time, the TCEQ has substantially increased monitoring of Texas surface waters.
Better techniques and protocols for assigning tailored, site-specific uses have been implemented.
Screenshot of the SWQMIS database
The TCEQ’s Surface Water Quality Monitoring Information System (SWQMIS) is used to store, manage, and make available water quality monitoring data from across the state. More than 20 separate organizations, including river authorities and local, state, and federal agencies, report data to SWQMIS.
In an average year, the Data Management & Analysis Team:
- Verifies, validates and/or loads more than 390,000 sample results.
- Creates 285 new monitoring stations in SWQMIS.
- Trains more than 30 new SWQMIS users.
- Manages over 20.5 million sample results and related metadata.
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The state uses several strategies to protect rivers, lakes, and bays. One of those strategies is regulation of stormwater and wastewater discharged to natural waters through permits. Texas' collection of rules, guidelines, and permits is called the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
To make it easier to apply for some permits, the TCEQ made applications available online through its secure STEERS ePermits system. These ePermits make it faster and less expensive for both dischargers and the TCEQ to process permit requests.
- E-Permitting has increased efficiency and timeliness in issuing wastewater and stormwater authorizations.
- Permittees receive coverage faster and are eligible for reduced fees when they use the ePermit system.
- As a result, usage of this system has increased significantly over time.
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When protective strategies are not sufficient to keep natural waters clean enough for all their uses, we take action to restore water quality.
The Nonpoint Source Program (NPS Program) administers federal funding to help watershed stakeholders address nonpoint sources of water pollution. The program is jointly administered by the TCEQ and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) .
- In fiscal year 2012, the TCEQ had 38 active multi-year grant-funded projects addressing a wide range of NPS issues.
- The budget for those 38 projects was approximately $15 million in federal funds.
Nonpoint Source Success Stories
The Total Maximum Daily Load Program (TMDL Program) works with local stakeholders to improve water quality in watersheds throughout Texas. Stakeholders are actively engaged in water quality restoration activities.
The total area covered by the TMDLs and associated I-Plans is:
- 2,012 Stream Miles
- 27,248 Reservoir Acres
- 222 Estuary Square Miles
Galveston Bay Estuary Program
From 2008-2012, the TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP) and its partners created, protected, restored, or enhanced 7,548 acres of coastal habitat, and 13,500 linear feet of habitat.
$47.15 million in federal funding was leveraged through coordination and collaboration with the program’s partners. For every dollar GBEP received from the EPA, the partners leverage $15.67.
Aerial Photo of North Deer Island
North Deer Island restoration. In December 2009, the GBEP and other North partners accepted the Coastal America Partnership Award—the only environmental award of its kind given by the President of the United States—for their efforts to protect this bird rookery.