What is coordinated watershed planning?
Watershed planning is a locally-driven mechanism for voluntarily addressing complex water quality problems that cross multiple jurisdictions. The goal is to protect unimpaired waterbodies from pollution threats and restore impaired, polluted waterbodies. The Texas Integrated Report for Clean Water Act §§ 305(b) and 303(d) provides an assessment of water quality in Texas. Watershed planning serves as a tool to better leverage the resources of local governments, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations. The planning process integrates activities and prioritizes implementation projects based upon technical merit and benefits to the community, promotes a unified approach to seeking funding for implementation, and creates a coordinated public communication and education program. This approach to watershed management recognizes that solutions to water quality issues must be socially acceptable, economically bearable, and based on environmental goals.
What is a Watershed Protection Plan?
A Watershed Protection Plan (WPP) is a coordinated framework for implementing prioritized and integrated water quality protection and restoration strategies driven by environmental objectives. Through the watershed planning process, the State of Texas encourages stakeholders to develop WPPs that holistically address all of the sources and causes of impairments and threats to both surface and ground water resources within a watershed. Developed and implemented through diverse, well integrated partnerships, a WPP assures the long-term health of the watershed. Adaptive management is used to modify the WPP based on an on-going science-based process that involves monitoring and evaluating strategies and incorporating new knowledge into decision-making.
TSSWCB-sponsored WPPs are consistent with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Guidelines. These guidelines describe nine elements fundamental to a potentially successful WPP:
1. Identification of the causes that will need to be controlled to achieve the load reductions described in (b)
2. Estimate of the load reductions expected for the management measures described in (c)
3. Description of management measures that will need to be implemented to achieve the load reductions described in (b)
4. Estimate of technical and financial assistance needed to implement this plan
5. Information/education component that will be used to enhance public understanding of this plan
6. Schedule for implementing management measures described in (c)
7. Description of interim, measurable milestones for determining whether management measures described in (c) are being implemented
8. Set of criteria that can be used to determine whether load reductions described in (b) are being achieved
9. Water quality monitoring component to evaluate effectiveness of implementation measured against the established criteria described in (h)
The TSSWCB and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) provide technical and financial assistance to stakeholder groups to develop and implement WPPs.
Programs for Developing WPPs
Texas Watershed Steward Program
To support the growth of stakeholder involvement in watershed planning, the Texas Watershed Steward Program (TWS) was initiated to provide science-based, watershed education to help citizens identify and take action to address local water quality issues. Texas Watershed Stewards learn about the nature and function of watersheds, potential impairments, and strategies for watershed protection. TWS is a one-day training program designed to increase citizen understanding of watershed processes and foster increased local participation in watershed management activities across the state. The program is tailored to and delivered in target watersheds undergoing WPP development and implementation. Online TWS training materials are also available enabling more flexible and widespread access to the program. TWS was developed and is delivered by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service with funding from TSSWCB and EPA.
Watershed Planning Short Course
Proper training of watershed coordinators and other water resource professionals is needed to ensure that WPPs are adequately planned, coordinated and implemented. The Watershed Planning Short Course provides this needed training and promotes sustainable proactive approaches to managing water quality throughout the state. This week long course provides participants with guidance on stakeholder coordination, education, and outreach; satisfying EPA's nine elements of a WPP; data collection and analysis; and the tools available for plan development. The Watershed Planning Short Course was developed through a coordinated effort led by the Texas Water Resources Institute and funded by EPA and TCEQ.
Texas Watershed Coordinator Roundtable
The Texas Watershed Coordinator Roundtable is held bi-annually, to provide a forum for establishing and maintaining dialogue between watershed coordinators and other water resource professionals, facilitate interactive solutions to common watershed issues faced throughout the state, and add to the fundamental knowledge conveyed at the Watershed Planning Short Course. Roundtables are co-sponsored by TCEQ and TSSWCB and facilitated by the Texas Water Resources Institute.
Consistency Review of WPPs in Texas
EPA Region 6 has developed an internal Review Guide for Watershed-Based Plans. The Guidelines, which detail the nine elements, and the Handbook are the foundation for this internal guide. This guide is intended to assist watershed stakeholders and the State in understanding EPA Region 6’s expectations for satisfying the nine elements and to achieve consistency in Region 6 reviews of WPPs. The Texas Nonpoint Source Management Program, as administered by TCEQ and TSSWCB and approved by EPA, provides the construct under which WPPs are developed and implemented. Within this framework of program delegation, and consistent with guidance from the EPA Region 6 Office of Regional Counsel, all WPPs (including those sponsored by the State or third parties) are reviewed by the State (either TCEQ or TSSWCB) and then submitted through one of these two agencies to EPA Region 6 for review. This path provides for the coordination of watershed planning and implementation efforts consistent with the Texas Nonpoint Source Management Program. In order to facilitate a more efficient nine element consistency review, close coordination between watershed stakeholders, the State, and EPA is requisite throughout the planning process.
4B Option for WPPs The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires the State of Texas to establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for certain waterbodies identified on the Texas Integrated Report for CWA §§ 305(b) and 303(d). A TMDL is a federally-driven, regulatory-framed document that defines the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can assimilate on a daily basis and still meet water quality standards.
In some watersheds, the development and implementation of a WPP may be a more viable approach to achieving restoration of water quality than through the establishment of a TMDL. EPA Region 6 has outlined a process by which the State may submit a WPP in lieu of a TMDL. This document discusses the national guidance and regulatory mechanisms governing the process of utilizing WPPs in lieu of TMDLs, as well as, discusses how this "4b option" relates to the nine elements of WPPs.
Essentially, this "4b option" recognizes that certain alternative pollution control measures, such as a WPP, may obviate the need for a TMDL and that the most effective method for achieving water quality standards for some waterbodies may be through management measures developed and implemented without TMDLs. The significance and complexity of whether a WPP may serve in lieu of a TMDL will necessitate close coordination between watershed stakeholders, the State, and EPA.
As TCEQ was preparing the 2010 Integrated Report, TSSWCB explored the feasibility of pursing this "4b option" and utilizing the Plum Creek WPP in lieu of a TMDL for Segment 1810. TSSWCB worked with the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership Steering Committee, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and TCEQ to develop a Rationale for Reclassifying Plum Creek (Segment 1810) from Category 5 to Category 4B on the 2010 Texas Integrated Report. This Rationale was based on the EPA Region 6 process document and was submitted by TCEQ to EPA as part of the 2010 Integrated Report. In EPA’s November 2011 letter of approval for the 2010 Integrated Report, EPA concluded that the State’s Rationale adequately demonstrates how other pollution control requirements (i.e., the WPP) will lead to water quality standards attainment in a reasonable period of time for Plum Creek. As such, EPA approved the State placing this waterbody into Category 4B of the Integrated Report. A significant portion of EPA’s approval letter is dedicated to discussing the use of the Plum Creek WPP in lieu of a TMDL. This is the first successful use of a WPP in lieu of a TMDL in Texas and in EPA Region 6, and one of the first in the nation.
TSSWCB Sponsored WPPs
TSSWCB provides technical and financial assistance to local stakeholder groups to develop and implement WPPs to address significant agricultural or silvicultural nonpoint source pollution issues. WPP development projects sponsored by TSSWCB can be funded through CWA §319(h) Nonpoint Source Grants to various entities.
TCEQ Sponsored WPPs
While WPP development projects sponsored by TCEQ have significant water quality issues related to urban nonpoint source pollution or wastewater treatment, most, to varying degrees, have agricultural or silvicultural nonpoint source pollution components.