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Arroyo Colorado: Surveying Recreational Uses

A completed project to evaluate recreational uses of the Arroyo Colorado
photo of a bend in the Arroyo Colorado, with palm trees
Arroyo Colorado

Counties: Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy
Parameter: Bacteria
Basin: Nueces–Rio Grande Coastal
Segment: 2202

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Background and Goals

Texas protects the quality of most of the state’s surface waters to make them safe for recreational uses. Activities during which a person might ingest natural waters—such as wading or swimming—are referred to as the “contact recreation” use in the state’s standards for water quality. The state uses criteria that are also defined in the standards to evaluate the suitability and safety of streams, lakes, and estuaries for contact recreation.

The Arroyo Colorado, a distributary channel of the Rio Grande, extends about 90 miles from Mission, Texas, to the Laguna Madre in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The Arroyo Colorado is the major source of fresh water to the lower Laguna Madre, an economically and ecologically important resource to the region. The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and several county and city parks are located within the Arroyo Colorado watershed. One third of the stream also is used for shipping from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Port of Harlingen.

The fertile farmland, long growing season, and irrigation water from the Rio Grande make this region one of the most productive agricultural areas in the U.S. The mild climate, semitropical plants and animals, and many recreational opportunities draw large numbers of people to the Arroyo Colorado watershed.

For an overview of water quality standards and management, read the TCEQ’s publication Preserving and Improving Water Quality.

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Evaluating Appropriate Recreational Uses

Recreational use-attainability analyses (RUAAs) are conducted to determine which of the state's four recreational use categories is appropriate for a particular water body. During an RUAA project, the staff collects:

  • Information about the presence or absence of water recreation activities, stream flow, and stream depth.
  • Data on other physical conditions that are necessary for safe recreational use.

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Public Participation

Local participation is crucial to identifying the locations most used for contact recreation. The TCEQ informed the public about this project through the local Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership Steering Committee, at other public meetings, and with notices in print and electronic media. All meetings about the project were open to everyone.

Meeting Summaries

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For More Information

Please e-mail us at and mention the Arroyo Colorado RUAA in the subject line. E-mail our Standards Team at or call 512-239-6682.

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communities working together taking care of our rivers, lakes, and bays