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 2014, there were approximately 57 active continuous water quality monitoring stations throughout the state.
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. Every spring, 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.
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
Since 2008, EPA has recognized the success of activities to address NPS pollution which were funded by the TCEQ and TSSWCB. These NPS success stories highlight the activities to improve water quality.
In 2014, the TCEQ had 44 active multi-year grant-funded projects addressing a wide range of NPS issues. The budget for those projects was approximately $14.6 million in federal funds.
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.
As of April 2013, the total area covered by the TMDLs and associated I-Plans is:
- 2,012 Stream Miles
- 27,248 Reservoir Acres
- 222 Estuary Square Miles
Learn more about watersheds where TMDLs are being implemented.
Galveston Bay Estuary Program
Since 2000, the TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP) and its partners created, protected, restored, or enhanced 24,268 acres of important coastal habitat.
During fiscal years 2013 and 2014, GBEP protected, restored, and enhanced 2,878 acres of coastal wetlands and other important habitats. Through collaborative partnerships established by the GBEP, $7.26 in private, local, and federal contributions was leveraged for every $1 the GBEP dedicated to these projects.
Back the Bay is the GBEP’s public awareness campaign designed to engage citizens in the Houston-Galveston region to improve water quality, conserve water, and protect fish and wildlife habitat. The campaign was created through a stakeholder-driven process and began with a pilot concept in 2010. By 2013, it was fully implemented in the 5-county region surrounding Galveston Bay. The campaign offers a fun and interactive way for residents to learn about the benefits of, and their connection to, the region’s most valuable natural resource. The campaign also features conservation tips for residents to help the Bay.
Location of Savannah Oaks Ranch and Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.
Savannah Oaks Ranch
Aerial Photo of North Deer Island
Coastal America Awards
Since 1997, the Coastal America Awards Program has recognized outstanding collaborative projects and excellence in leadership for protecting, preserving and restoring the nation’s coastal resources. The GBEP and its partners have received two Coastal America Partnership Awards —the only environmental award of its kind given by the President of the United States.
Savannah Oaks Ranch Preservation. In 2012, the award was received for purchasing a conservation easement for the Savannah Oaks Ranch. This fifth-generation family farm is an approximately 700-acre rice farm situated near the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. The farm contains coastal wetlands, riparian and oak woodlands, and seasonally-flooded rice fields. It provides excellent habitat for a variety of shorebirds and waterfowl. Through this conservation easement, the landowners will maintain the property’s current use as a working farm while preserving its value to wildlife in perpetuity.
North Deer Island Restoration. Previously, in December 2009, GBEP and other North Deer Island partners accepted the Coastal America Partnership Award for the North Deer Island project. This project consisted of restoration of shoreline and eight acres of intertidal marsh. North Deer Island is an important bird rookery. Restoration of this bird island sanctuary conserves three priority-bird species—the Brown Pelican and the threatened Reddish Egret and White-faced Ibis—and 16 other bird species. The intertidal marsh provides critical nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important fishery species.