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Shoal Creek: Developing a Watershed Protection Plan

The Shoal Creek Conservancy developed a watershed-based plan for Shoal Creek in Austin.


Shoal Creek is in west-central Austin, Texas, and empties into Lady Bird Lake. The Shoal Creek watershed, located in a fast developing and highly urbanized part of the city, is 53% impervious cover and the only 21% of that area's stormwater is treated before entering the creek.

Shoal creek has two tributaries, Spicewood Springs and Hancock Creek. Spicewood Springs (Segment 1403J) does not meet state water quality standards for fecal bacteria. These bacteria are naturally found in the intestines of humans, livestock, wildlife, and pets. Although they are not generally disease-causing, their presence in water indicate the potential presence of disease-causing microorganisms from fecal contamination. Therefore, higher levels of fecal bacteria in water mean a higher risk to humans of contracting diseases by ingesting contaminated water during swimming, wading, or kayaking — activities, called “contact recreation,” in the state’s standards for water quality. A Total Maximum Daily Load covering Spicewood Spring and other Austin area watersheds was approved in 2015 to address this impairment.

Shoal Creek (Segment 1429A) meets state water quality standards for fecal bacteria, but periodic water quality monitoring has shown elevated fecal bacteria levels. In repsonse, local stakholders were motivated to voluntarily develop a watershed protection plan for the Shoal Creek watershed, with the goal of protecting water quality.

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Project Description

In 2017, the Shoal Creek Conservancy (the Conservancy) began developing a Watershed Action Plan for the Shoal Creek watershed inclusive of tributaries, to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's nine-elements for watershed-based plans .

The project built upon existing efforts by the City of Austin and nonprofit groups to establish a stakeholder committee and complete watershed modeling. The stakeholder committee met at bimonthly meetings to organize public input for the plan. The Conservancy also collected supplemental water quality monitoring data for watershed modeling which was used to estimate the volume of pollutants entering the watershed (i.e., pollutant loadings) and to estimate the the amount of pollutants coming from various sources.

After completing watershed modeling, the Conservancy used the watershed modeling results to determine by how much pollutant loadings would have to be reduced to meet project goals of improving water quality. With pollutant loading estimates and reductions identified, the Conservancy and stakeholders recommended best management practices for meeting pollutant reduction goals.

The Conservancy also conducted watershed education and outreach activities including community forums, volunteer opportunities, and crowd sourcing. These activities engaged schools, community groups, and downtown businesses in the WPP development process.

The Shoal Creek Watershed Action Plan was accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 9, 2021.

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For More Information

To find out more about the NPS Program, call 512-239-6682 or e-mail us at

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