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EPA Clean Water Act §319(h) Nonpoint Source Grant Program & USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program
Examples of Coordination in Texas
For nearly 70 years, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) and Texas soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) have partnered with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide conservation assistance to private landowners. Through Conservation Technical Assistance, field and technical staff assist farmers and ranchers with conservation planning, application of conservation practices, and systems of practices to treat resource concerns and conduct ecosystem restoration. Over the years, this strong partnership has resulted in many outstanding pollution prevention and natural resource protection achievements.
In 1993, the Texas Legislature granted the TSSWCB the authority to serve as the State's lead agency for planning, implementing and managing programs and practices for preventing and abating agricultural and silvicultural nonpoint source water pollution. With this authority came the responsibility to jointly administer the Texas Nonpoint Source Management Program with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is the State's water quality regulatory agency. The TSSWCB and TCEQ each administer one-half of Texas' annual Clean Water Act (CWA) §319(h) Nonpoint Source Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Both the TSSWCB and the TCEQ are members of the Texas State Technical Committee, which is a forum that NRCS uses to gain input from stakeholders in order to set natural resource priorities for Farm Bill conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Because of the longstanding conservation partnership between the TSSWCB, Texas SWCDs and NRCS, and because of the participation of both TSSWCB and TCEQ on the Texas State Technical Committee, the Texas Nonpoint Source Management Program has been able to leverage EQIP funds with CWA §319(h) grants to address water quality impairments on the State's CWA §303(d) List.
The following are examples that demonstrate direct and active cooperation between the Texas NRCS and the Texas Nonpoint Source Management Program to address impaired waters.
- Lower San Antonio River, Peach Creek, Elm & Sandies Creeks, and Atascosa River
- Aquilla Reservoir
- Upper North and North Bosque Rivers
- Seymour Aquifer
More than half of the waterbodies on the 2006 Texas 303(d) List (the most recent EPA-approved List) do not meet water quality standards for bacteria established to protect contact recreation use and/or oyster water use. Many of these waterbodies are clustered in south central Texas, including Elm and Sandies Creeks, Peach Creek, Lower San Antonio River, and Atascosa River. The TCEQ, in collaboration with TSSWCB, is currently facilitating the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these and other bacteria impaired waters.
In 2005, TSSWCB and TCEQ worked with NRCS to establish an EQIP State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas. Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers receive financial assistance for structural and management conservation practices on their land. The EQIP State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas is directed toward protection of streams impacted by bacterial contamination from livestock. Since establishing this State Resource Concern, EQIP financial assistance has been available in these target watersheds for the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) such as cross-fencing, water wells, riparian buffers, watering facilities, and prescribed grazing. Between 2006 and 2008, the Texas NRCS has allocated $2,905,230 for this EQIP State Resource Concern.
The TSSWCB is administering $1,098,211 in federal CWA §319(h) and nonfederal matching funds through two separate projects, Peach Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, and Technical Assistance Supporting Cooperative Conservation in South Central Texas. Through these two projects, four SWCDs are taking the lead in providing technical assistance to livestock operators in the target watersheds. Grant funding provides for the support of four SWCD technicians who are assisting cattlemen in developing and implementing water quality management plans (WQMPs). WQMPs are site-specific conservation plans that emphasize the implementation of BMPs that can improve water quality, in accordance with the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide. These technicians are assisting ranchers in acquiring EQIP cost-share for the implementation of BMPs through the State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas.
The lead SWCDs are Atascosa County SWCD, DeWitt County SWCD, Karnes County SWCD, and Gonzales County SWCD. The technicians work under the direction of the lead SWCDs, with assistance from TSSWCB Regional Office staff and NRCS field staff, as needed. Through cooperative agreements, the technicians work in an additional 13 adjacent SWCDs. Cooperating SWCDs include Medina Valley SWCD, Wilson County SWCD, Comal-Guadalupe SWCD, Live Oak SWCD, Frio SWCD, Copano Bay SWCD, Alamo SWCD, Victoria SWCD, Goliad County SWCD, McMullen County SWCD, Bastrop County SWCD, Caldwell-Travis SWCD, and Fayette SWCD.
The technicians are critically important in promoting WQMP development and EQIP cost-share availability, and encouraging participation from livestock producers. The technicians also work with TSSWCB, NRCS and Texas AgriLife Extension Service to educate ranchers about water quality issues and how WQMPs and BMPs address bacterial contamination from livestock. Additionally, the technicians work with commodity organizations such as Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas, and Texas Farm Bureau, to educate their members on this opportunity to jointly enhance the value of their operation and achieve water quality goals. The technicians participate in the stakeholder process for TMDL development for their respective watershed in order to communicate project activities and achievements.
Technical Assistance Supporting Cooperative Conservation in South Central Texas
Peach Creek Water Quality Improvement Project
TSSWCB Statewide Bacterial Water Quality Impairment Reduction Initiative
Water Quality - South Central Texas
Atascosa River: A TMDL Project for Bacteria
Lower San Antonio River: A TMDL Project for Bacteria
Peach Creek: A TMDL Project for Bacteria
Elm and Sandies Creeks: A TMDL Project for Bacteria and Dissolved Oxygen
Aquilla Reservoir, an important source of drinking water and recreation, was found to have excessive levels of the herbicide atrazine in finished drinking water beginning in 1997. TSSWCB, TCEQ and other partners initiated efforts to reduce agricultural atrazine sources and to a lesser extent, urban sources in the watershed. As a result of technical assistance to corn and sorghum producers who implemented agricultural BMPs, and education targeted to urban residents, atrazine concentrations in Aquilla Reservoir declined by 60 percent. The waterbody now meets drinking water standards for atrazine concentrations, and in 2004 the TCEQ removed Aquilla Reservoir from the state's 303(d) List.
TCEQ and TSSWCB led the atrazine reduction project and developed a TMDL. Other entities were vital to the effort, including the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas AgriLife Research, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, NRCS, Brazos River Authority, and Texas Farm Bureau. Other partners included the Hill County-Blackland SWCD, Aquilla Water Supply District, Woodrow-Osceola Water Supply Corporation, Hill County Appraisal District, EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Syngenta (formerly Novartis).
Since 1999, approximately $2.8 million in CWA §319(h) and nonfederal matching funds have helped to support this restoration effort. Funds were used in the development of the TMDL and Implementation Plan, to provide technical and cost-share assistance to corn and sorghum producers in developing and implementing WQMPs, and to monitoring effectiveness of BMP implementation. In addition, the NRCS designated the Aquilla Reservoir watershed a special emphasis area and provided more than $1.9 million in EQIP cost-share funds between 1998 and 2003 to assist producers implementing BMPs in the watershed.
Section 319 Nonpoint Source Success Stories - Aquilla Reservoir
Aquilla Reservoir: A TMDL Project for Atrazine
Modeling Atrazine in Seven Texas Watersheds
Aquilla Reservoir TMDL Implementation Plan Monitoring Project
Texas' efforts to reduce excessive nutrient (specifically phosphorus) levels in the Upper North and North Bosque Rivers is one of the best examples of coordinating CWA §319(h) funds and EQIP funds. The two primary sources of the excessive nutrients identified in the TMDL and its associated Implementation Plan include discharges from dairy operations and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. Several of the key pollution control measures included in the Implementation Plan that pertain to the dairy operations are the need for comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs), continued water quality monitoring, larger wastewater storage ponds, and exporting one-half of the collectable manure to locations outside of the watershed. CWA §319(h) funds were used by both the TSSWCB and the TCEQ in conjunction with EQIP funding from the NRCS to address each of these needs.
One of the first steps taken to achieve a reduction in nutrient loading from land application of nutrients (manure) was the development of a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) for each dairy. The TSSWCB, TCEQ, and dairy industry representatives worked with the Texas NRCS through the Texas State Technical Committee to arrange for incentive payments through EQIP to offset the cost of the development of CNMPs by third-party technical service providers. Once completed, each CNMP was reviewed by the NRCS and TSSWCB for consistency with the adopted technical requirements which were based on the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide.
Manure Export / Composting
While the development of CNMPs provides for reductions in phosphorus loading for the long-term, a short-term effort was initiated in 2000 to immediately begin removing dairy manure from the watershed entirely. Through numerous CWA §319(h) grants, the TSSWCB and the TCEQ jointly administered a manure hauling and composting initiative that ran for approximately six years. The TSSWCB initiated the Dairy Manure Export Support (DMES) Program to offer financial incentives to commercial manure haulers to support the transport of raw manure from dairy farms in the North Bosque and nearby watersheds to commercial composting operations. The raw manure was then improved through a composting process so it could be put to beneficial use outside the watershed. Entities such as the Texas Department of Transportation and municipalities, as well as agricultural producers and the general public were some of the target purchasers of the composted product. Through CWA §319(h) grants, the TCEQ provided rebates to these target purchasers to facilitate the development of a sustainable market through the Composted Manure Incentive Project (CMIP). Through August 31, 2006 over 1,036,000 tons of manure had been removed from dairies in the North Bosque and nearby watersheds and transported to commercial composting operations. As of the same date, the CMIP had supported the export of more than 329,000 tons of dairy manure from the watershed in the form of compost, thus removing more than 1.48 million pounds of phosphorus from the watershed.
Permitting / Wastewater Retention Improvements
Perhaps one of the biggest contributions EQIP has had toward restoring the health of the North Bosque River watershed came as a result of a meeting between the executive leadership of the TCEQ, TSSWCB, Texas NRCS, Texas Department of Agriculture, and high ranking Washington, DC representatives from the EPA and USDA. At this meeting, it was clear that changes were going to be made to the CAFO permitting requirements relating to the magnitude of the rainfall event each dairy CAFO must be constructed to contain prior to allowing an authorized discharge. Once the Texas CAFO rules were amended to require dairy CAFOs to retain runoff and direct precipitation from a 25-year, ten-day rainfall event (as opposed to the previous requirement of a 25-year, 24-hour event), it was clear that most dairy CAFOs would need to either expand their current retention control capacity or build another structure. The Texas NRCS once again made financial assistance available to the dairies through EQIP to cost-share the expense of these changes.
Water Quality Monitoring
CWA §319(h) funds have been used by both the TCEQ and the TSSWCB to provide for water quality monitoring in this watershed to achieve a variety of objectives. First, TCEQ provided CWA §319(h) grants to regional research entities to ensure that monitoring was conducted at index sites on the main stem of the river to measure long-term progress towards achieving the TMDL. Likewise, the TSSWCB utilized CWA §319(h) funds to maintain an extensive series of tributary sampling stations to measure the effectiveness of both the manure and compost export programs and the installation of BMPs through CNMPs.
North Bosque River: A TMDL Project for Phosphorus
Composted Manure Incentive Project
Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan Program
Dairy Manure Export Support (DMES)
Extending TMDL Efforts in the North Bosque River Watershed
The Seymour Aquifer is a shallow aquifer underlying over 300,000 acres in 20 counties in northwest central Texas. High nitrate concentrations are widespread in the Seymour Aquifer. Median nitrate levels in Knox, Haskell, Baylor, Hall, Wichita, Wilbarger, and Fisher counties exceeded the federal safe drinking water standard (10 mg/L NO3-N). This high concentration is a concern because although 90% of the water pumped from the aquifer is used for irrigation, it is also used as a municipal water source for the communities of Vernon, Burkburnett, and Electra and rural families in the region.
To address this threat, the TSSWCB, with 319(h) grant funding provided by the EPA, worked cooperatively with the Haskell, Wichita-Brazos, and California Creek SWCDs; NRCS; Texas AgriLife Extension Service (AgriLife Extension); Texas A&M AgriLife - Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI); Rolling Plains Groundwater Conservation District; and Texas AgriLife Research (AgriLife Research) to encourage the installation of subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) systems and other best management practices (BMPs) to improve water quality (i.e. reduce nitrate) and increase water quantity in the Seymour Aquifer. The project provided technical and financial assistance to producers to implement SDI and other BMPs, education programs and demonstrations of methods for reducing nitrate infiltration and improving irrigation efficiency and an evaluation of the effectiveness of SDI implementation.
Considerable interest has been generated in SDI and other more efficient irrigation methods through the efforts of project partners. Through technical and financial assistance provided by the project through the TSSWCB and Haskell, Wichita-Brazos and California Creek SWCDs, 17 producers installed SDI systems on over 1,000 acres. In addition, irrigation management was implemented through the Water Quality Management Plans (WQMPs) developed on over 1,800 acres and nutrient management was implemented on over 2,500 acres. NRCS also began funding irrigation improvements in Haskell, Knox, Baylor, Wilbarger, Hardeman and Foard counties
through a Seymour Aquifer Special Emphasis Area under the EQIP Program. Since this Special Emphasis Area was established in 2004, over $16 million dollars have been provided.
In addition to implementing BMPs, a very important component of this project was conducting educational programs and demonstrations. Through seven programs conducted between 2005 and 2008, AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension provided educational programs and demonstrations on nutrient management and irrigation management to 671 participants. The
establishment of the permanent SDI demonstration site at the Chillicothe Station will ensure that these programs are sustained for many years to come and offer producers in the Texas Rolling Plains additional crop production options to enhance economic returns and water quality, and improve their quality of life.
Although not confirmed by field sampling, which showed no significant difference between the nitrogen budgets of SDI and pivot irrigation, model results suggest that leaching is approximately twice as likely under pivot irrigation as under SDI. However, based on results of this project, conversion from pivot to drip irrigation without better nutrient management will not significantly affect nitrate in the aquifer. In order to reduce inorganic N in the Seymour Aquifer hydrologic system, the inorganic N being delivered to the field through irrigation needs to be accounted for in nutrient management plans. Even though groundwater high in nitrates is considered to be a negative with respect to drinking water quality standards, it can be considered to be a significant N resource for agricultural production. Irrigation water pumped from the Seymour Aquifer is frequently high in nitrates. Therefore, by taking credit for the "free" N in
irrigation water, producers, over time, may be able to reduce N in groundwater while realizing significant financial benefits.
Another important finding was that soil storage rather than irrigation method was the dominant factor influencing leaching potential of a given area. This finding suggests that future implementation of BMPs should be prioritized to areas with low soil storage capacity/ high
leaching potential soils.
Continued work is needed to improve conditions in the Seymour Aquifer. Educational programs on irrigation management and nutrient management are needed to encourage regular soil testing, better managed irrigation systems, and account for nitrate levels in irrigation water when determining N fertilization needs. In conjunction with these educational programs, soil testing and water testing should be provided. If nitrate in the aquifer can be "mined" using irrigation, substantial cost savings can be realized by producers while potentially improving the quality of the water in the aquifer.
For more information on any of these examples, please contact John Foster at (254) 773-2250, ext. 235, or jfoster [at] tsswcb [dot] state [dot] tx [dot] us.