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Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou Watersheds: A Community Project to Protect Aquatic Life and Recreational Uses

A project to reduce bacteria concentration and increase levels of dissolved oxygen to protect recreational and aquatic life uses. Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) were developed and adopted for bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and pH. Stakeholders developed the approved implementation plan (I-Plan), which together with the TMDLs is the road map for improving water quality.

Counties: Orange, Jasper, Newton
Parameters: Bacteria, dissolved oxygen, pH
River Basin: Sabine River
Segments: 0508, 0508B, 0508C, 0511, 0511A, 0511B, 0511C, 0511E
Assessment Units (AUs): 0508_01, 0508_02, 0508_03, 0508_04, 0508B_01, 0508C_01, 0511_01, 0511_02, 0511_03, 0511_04, 0511A_02, 0511B_01, 0511C_01, 0511E_01

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Project Description and Goals

Between 1992 and 2002, TCEQ found that bacteria levels in the bayous and their tributaries may pose a health risk for people who swim or wade in the waterways—activities called “contact recreation” in the state’s standards for surface water quality. Certain types of fecal bacteria from both human and animal waste may indicate the presence of disease-causing microorganisms that could cause gastro-intestinal illness in people who swallow natural waters. 

Low concentrations of dissolved oxygen in some areas indicate that conditions are not optimal for aquatic life. Oxygen, which dissolves in water, is essential for the survival of aquatic life. While the amount of dissolved oxygen in water fluctuates naturally, various human activities can cause unusually or chronically low dissolved oxygen levels.

And in Cow Bayou, pH values were occasionally lower than criteria established to protect general uses. 

In 2002, TCEQ launched a project to develop TMDLs for the watershed to determine the amount (or load) of a pollutant that a water body ca receive and still meet applicable water quality standards. The goals of the project are to:

  • Reduce bacteria levels in the bayous to ensure that recreational use is safe.
  • Maintain levels of dissolved oxygen and pH that will sustain aquatic life.

The Sabine River AuthorityExit the TCEQ and other stakeholders worked with TCEQ to develop the plan for improving water quality in the project watershed.

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Watershed Description

Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou are located in southeast Texas. Their combined watersheds cover almost 250 square miles in the coastal area of the Sabine River Basin. Water flow in the bayous is intermittent, and periods with no flow are very common. The topography of the region is relatively flat. The natural landscape is characterized by a heavy clay substrate and a mix of pine and deciduous trees. 

The lower portion of the Adams Bayou watershed is urban, and includes most of the cities of Orange, West Orange, and Pinehurst.  A tidally influenced tributary to Adams Bayou, Hudson Gully, flows through the heart of this urban area. The lower portion of Adams Bayou has been dredged and channelized for navigation. Hudson Gully and a freshwater tributary to Adams Bayou, Gum Gully, have been channelized to improve drainage in the watershed. 

The Cow Bayou watershed is urban in some areas, and includes portions of the cities of Buna, Mauriceville, Vidor, and Bridge City. Large areas of the watershed are used for agriculture, including rangeland/pasture and hay production.  Three of Cow Bayou's tributaries—Cole Creek, Terry Gully, and Coon Bayou—were also impaired. The lower portion of Cow Bayou has been dredged and channelized for navigation. Like Adams Bayou, several of its tributaries have been channelized for drainage. 

Both Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou watersheds are affected by municipal and industrial wastewater discharges and by storm water runoff from agricultural, industrial, and urban areas.

Get Involved

In all its projects, TCEQ gathers opinions and information from a variety of people with interest in the watershed. The Sabine River AuthorityExit the TCEQ, in partnership with TCEQ, coordinates efforts to implement the I-Plan and improve water quality in Adams and Cow bayous. Read more about what it means to Participate  in TMDL Projects.

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Status

The Sabine River Authority and TCEQ hold regular public meetings to review progress of implementing the TMDLs and to get ideas and feedback about how to improve the I-Plan. Tracking of implementation progress allows stakeholders to evaluate actions taken, identify actions that may not be working, and make any changes as necessary.

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I-Plan

A TMDL I-Plan outlines the measures needed to reduce pollutant loads through regulatory and voluntary activities. Community stakeholders worked together to create the I-Plan. On August 5, 2015, the Commission approved the stakeholders' plan. 

Since January 2021, TCEQ and Sabine River Authority have been collecting information for a possible update to the 2015 I-Plan.

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TMDLs

TCEQ originally adopted 17 TMDLs in 2007 for bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and pH for the watersheds associated with this project. In 2020, based on new data, TCEQ revised and adopted 23 TMDLs in place of the original 17. Stakeholders advised TCEQ on the development of both the original and the revised TMDLs.

Revised TMDLs

The Commission adopted the revised TMDLs on August 26, 2020. EPA approved them on October 9, 2020, at which time they became part of the state's Water Quality Management Plan.

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Original TMDLs

The Commission adopted these TMDLs on June 13, 2007. EPA approved them on August 28, 2007, at which time they became part of the state's Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP).

Revisions to TMDLs

From time to time, it is necessary to revise TMDLs to account for changing conditions in the watershed. Revisions to the load allocations in TMDLs are made via the state’s Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP), which is updated quarterly.

The WQMP provides projected effluent limits for use in planning and permitting activities under the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination SystemExit the TCEQ (TPDES). The TCEQ reviews all applications for new and amended permits for conformance with applicable portions of the WQMP, including adopted TMDLs.

Updates

Updates are made to account for changing conditions in the watershed, such as new or revised wasteload allocations, permits that have been canceled or have expired, or changed facility names. Updates use the same units of measure as the original TMDL.

  • July 2008, pages 7-9

WQMP updates may be viewed in person at the TCEQ Library, Building A, 12100 Park 35 Circle, Austin, Texas. Electronic versions of updates published from 2014 through the present are available on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission websiteExit the TCEQ.

For WQMP updates prior to 2014, use the TRAIL SearchExit the TCEQ the TCEQ engine as outlined below. The main search box on the page will only conduct a simple search with no exclusionary parameters and should not be used.

  1. First, limit your search to TCEQ only. Do this via the advanced search feature on the left of the page. To limit a search to TCEQ content, enter “www.tceq.texas.gov” or “www.tceq.state.tx.us” into the “From the Host” search box.
  2. Refine your search to narrow down results. The other search boxes on the left of the page allow for search terms to be included, excluded, or used in an exact phrase search. Date ranges can be used as well.

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Reports and Other Documents

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Contact the TMDL Program

Please email tmdl@tceq.texas.gov and mention the Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou project in the subject line. Or call us at 512-239-6682.

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Communities Working Together