Texas Water Resources Institute wins environmental award

March 23, 2012

Writer: Rod Santa Ana
Contacts: Neal Wilkins, 979-845-7726, nwilkins@ag.tamu.edu
Jaime Flores, 956-969-5607, jjflores@ag.tamu.edu
Allen Berthold, 979-845-2028, taberthold@ag.tamu.edu

The Texas Water Resources Institute was recently selected as the winner of the Texas Environmental Excellence Award for its work in improving the water quality of the Arroyo Colorado, an important waterway in South Texas. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Water Resources Institute)

COLLEGE STATION  –  The Texas Water Resources Institute was recently selected as the winner of the Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the civic/community category for its Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership.

The institute is a unit of Texas AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Presented annually by the governor of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the award spotlights the state’s highest achievement in environmental preservation and protection.

Representatives from the institute will accept the award during the commission’s annual awards banquet May 2 as part of its Environmental Trade Fair and Conference at the Austin Convention Center.

“This award is definitely an honor for the institute, but the real credit goes to the farmers, the cities, the work group members and other project participants who have made this partnership such a success,” said Dr. Neal Wilkins, the institute’s director.

Jaime Flores, an institute program coordinator and watershed coordinator for the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan Implementation project, said the watershed partnership is made up of more than 700 people representing federal, state and private organizations, agricultural producers and other individuals concerned with water quality problems in the Arroyo Colorado in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The partnership published its Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan in 2007, making it one of the first watershed protection plans in the state, he said.

“Through multiple projects and cooperation of many stakeholders, the institute and partnership have achieved 75 percent of the goals set forth in the plan,” Flores said. “University scientists and city officials are working alongside farmers and schoolchildren to monitor, clean up and educate others about the Arroyo.”

Three cities have constructed wetlands that receive effluent from their waste water treatment plants. The wetlands reduce bacteria, nutrients and biochemical oxygen demand loads entering the Arroyo, Flores said.

“These wetlands also provide an excellent educational opportunity to teach those interested about their natural functions,” he said.

“Cooperating farmers have implemented agricultural best-management practices that have reduced nitrogen, potassium and phosphate amounts entering the Arroyo,” he added. “We have educated more than 30,000 adults and students about the watershed, their impact on its water quality and how they can be better stewards. We have also installed storm drain markers and watershed boundary signs, which have reduced trash and pollutants from entering storm drains.”

The institute began coordinating the Arroyo Colorado program in 2007, working closely with the partnership, commission, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and Texas General Land Office to implement practices to improve water quality, according to Allen Berthold, an institute project manager.

“The institute and partnership have submitted or supported submission of more than 39 proposals since 2005,” Berthold said. “Currently, the institute manages five projects for the partnership, totaling approximately $2.3 million in funds, with other projects beginning in September.”

For more information on the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, go to http://arroyocolorado.org/.

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