Aug. 30 meeting set in La Marque for Highland Bayou Watershed Protection Plan

LA MARQUE — A meeting about the Highland Bayou Watershed Protection Plan will be held Aug. 30 at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service’s Galveston County office, 4102-B Main St., La Marque.

The 6 p.m. meeting, which is free and open to the public, provides an opportunity for the public to review existing conditions around the bayous and to learn how to become involved in the development of the watershed protection plan, organizers said.

“This meeting will be the first of several to be scheduled over the next year,” said Steven Mikulencak, AgriLife Extension program specialist. “Participation from the public and local officials will be crucial for defining priorities and responsibilities in the plan.”

Mikulencak works with AgriLife Extension’s Texas Coastal Watershed Program, based in Houston.

Highland and Marchand bayous, identified by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to have failed state standards for levels of bacteria and oxygen, will be the focus of the plan, he said. However, the plan will also look at ways to address pollution in other bayous in the project area.

The project area stretches from Moses Lake to Virginia Point and then west to the Brazoria County line. Portions of Texas City, La Marque, Hitchcock, Santa Fe, Bayou Vista and Tiki Island could be effected by the plan.

The plan’s recommendations will be voluntary and address short and long-term goals, Mikulencak said. The group, led by AgriLife Extension and funded by the environmental quality commission, will take about a year to develop the plan.

“We want workshop participants to become involved in the planning process. Residents and businesses around the bayous can direct our effort, and the Moses-Karakawa Bayous Alliance was created to facilitate that involvement,” he added. “And, to keep the community informed about the plan, a website and Facebook page have been set up.”

Information about the Highland Bayou Protection Plan can be found at http://www.MoKaBayousAlliance.org.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified non-point source water pollution as the primary reason why 40 percent of  the nation’s waterways and estuaries are not clean enough to meet basic uses.  This national trend is evident in Harris and Galveston county bayous, and the Texas officials have initiated watershed protection plans for several of the bayous draining into Galveston Bay, Mikulencak said.

Non-point source pollution refers to stormwater from lawns, roads and other hard surfaces that flows through drainage systems and into bayous. The runoff carries with it pollutants such as fertilizers, vehicle fluids, home chemicals and water from leaking septic systems.

“Even bags of lawn clippings disposed of into storm drains breakdown in a short time, releasing a surge of nutrients into the water that stimulates algae growth,” he said. “Algae blooms have resulted in fish kills in the bayous and is unsightly for recreation.”

The watershed plan will also examine ways to reduce bacteria, which are believed to come from a mix of animal sources and failing septic systems. High levels of bacteria in the water can be a public health hazard, limiting how residents can use and recreate in the bayou, he noted.

When the plan is completed, its recommendations will be implemented by stakeholders and localities in the study area, Mikulencak said. Also, these communities will become eligible for federal and state funds to address water quality issues.

Nearby Dickinson Bayou serves as an example, he noted.

“Since completing the plan, our communities have been able to secure funding for several projects in the Dickinson watershed,” said Charriss York, AgriLife Extension program coordinator for the Dickinson Bayou protection plan, who has been working with communities there for three years.

Dickinson projects include the creation of demonstration rain gardens, engineered wetlands for secondary treatment of stormwater from treatment plants and a study to estimate the feasibility of upgrading home septic systems.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to fund the development of the watershed protection plan.
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