2003 Regional assessment of water quality in the Rio Grande Basin

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2003 Regional assessment of water quality in the Rio Grande Basin

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Title: 2003 Regional assessment of water quality in the Rio Grande Basin
Author: Texas Clean Rivers Program United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission
Abstract: Border communities of Texas and Mexico use the Rio Grande as a source of drinking water, an irrigation tool, and for recreational use. Water from the river is used and reused by a diverse group of people that differ in needs and management strategies. Understanding of river dynamics and water quality issues is essential to those entities charged with management and preservation of the Rio Grande Basin. The purpose of this report is to inform the public, the stakeholders, and other agencies as to the condition of the Rio Grande basin, improvements and potential problems within the watershed, the efforts of the Texas Clean Rivers Program (CRP) and its partners to monitor and assess the waters of the basin, and potential resolutions to any negative trends within the basin. The Texas Clean Rivers Program was initiated by the State of Texas in 1991 in response to growing concerns that water resource issues were not being pursued in an integrated, systematic manner. At that time, no river agency existed for the Rio Grande Basin. Matters were further complicated by the fact that two countries share the river. In order to address the international nature of the watershed, the state of Texas through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, contracted with the United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) in October 1998 to administer the CRP for the Rio Grande Basin. The legislation creating the CRP requires that ongoing water quality assessments be conducted using an approach that integrates water quality and water quantity issues within a river basin, or watershed. Another aspect of the CRP is that it provides a forum that allows for the exchange of information and ideas between the CRP and the public. The citizens of the basin are offered the opportunity to comment and ensure that local issues are addressed within the program. The collection of water quality data is outlined in the Rio Grande Basin Monitoring Plan- Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). This document outlines the monitoring program, how data is collected and analyzed, quality assurance and quality control criteria, and reporting requirements. The IBWC and ten partners (various federal, state and local entities) collect various field and laboratory water quality parameters at 68 stations on the Rio Grande and 12 stations on the Pecos River. Because the Rio Grande Basin is so large and encompasses a large variety of areas having differing climates, plant communities, geology, flow regimes, and environmental pressures, the basin has been divided into four sub-basins. Data collected from these sub-basins are entered into a database administered by the TCEQ. The CRP and TCEQ use the database to assess concerns about the basin and produce reports on the basin as mandated by federal law. The database is also made available to outside interested parties for use in other projects. The CRP has introduced many new stations and, through the USIBWC, expanded partnerships to assist in the collection of data and water quality samples throughout the basin. The CRP created a website that allows access to water quality data and monitoring station locations for anyone needing the data. Public outreach by the CRP has expanded public knowledge about the program and taken water quality and quantity preservation into the classrooms of elementary, high school, and even, college students. Research projects in the basin receive support from the CRP through advice, equipment, data, and assistance leading to important information on the effects and conditions in the basin. For this report the CRP analyzed water quality data from the previous five years. The data was statistically examined for evidence of rising or falling trends as well as determining if water quality at each station meets minimum standards. If problems were noted, possible causes of those problems were explored and recommendations made to address the issue. The Pecos River sub-basin extends from the Texas/New Mexico state line to the Rio Grande and contains 3 segments with a total of 12 monitoring stations. The Pecos Subbasin data evaluation revealed concerns about salt concentrations and water quantity. The Pecos River enters Texas with high dissolved solids and salt concentrations. The high salinity levels are aggravated by low flows and the prevalence of salt cedar. A project is now being implemented by Texas A&M University to eradicate salt cedar from the Pecos using herbicides. Effects of salt cedar removal on water flow and salt are currently being evaluated by various agencies involved in the project including the CRP. The Upper Rio Grande sub-basin extends from the Texas/New Mexico state line to Amistad Reservoir and contains six segments with a total of 26 monitoring stations. Primary concerns of the sub-basin include high bacterial levels, salinity (chloride, sulfate, TDS), and nutrients (ammonia and phosphorus). Wastewater from communities along the river and agricultural runoff contribute to the high levels of fecal coliform and nutrients found in some portions of this segment. Corrective actions such as installation of new WWTPs, upgraded WWTPs, and more stringent discharge regulations will help alleviate the problem. Additionally, the CRP is assisting EPCC in a project that proposes to identify specific non-point sources such as agricultural runoff that contribute to the problem. High salinity is attributed primarily to current irrigation practices. The CRP is assisting in a project head by Texas A&M University Agricultural Research Center to quantify and identify the mechanisms contributing to increased salinities. The Middle Rio Grande sub-basin extends from Amistad Reservoir to Falcon Reservoir and includes 3 segments with a total of 23 monitoring stations. While salinity concerns are not as great for this area as upper reaches of the river, bacteria and nutrient levels remain a concern. Because these contaminants are typically highest below areas of higher population densities, it is probable that the high levels of bacteria and nutrients are caused by wastewater discharges. Again, corrective actions such as installation of new WWTPs, upgraded WWTPs, and more stringent discharge regulations will help alleviate the problem. The CRP is participating in several special studies in conjunction with other U.S. and Mexican agencies to determine sources of contaminants and possible solutions to current problems. The Lower Rio Grande sub-basin extends from Falcon Reservoir to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The sub-basin contains two segments with a total of 13 monitoring stations. Problems in this sub-basin also include bacteria and nutrients with the probable cause of these high contaminant loads being municipal discharges. Other problems in this subbasin include excessive growth of aquatic weeds and low flows. Low flows have caused the mouth of the Rio Grande to become blocked with sediment at times. Texas Parks and Wildlife have been experimenting with different methods of aquatic weed control and researchers from UTEP have initiated studies to determine the cause of the blockage of the mouth of the Rio Grande. The problems noted in the previous paragraphs lead to the following recommendations for future study. The current level of monitoring effort should remain the same or increase. An increased number of strategically placed monitoring stations will only increase our ability to understand current problems. The CRP should also facilitate efforts by partners to perform special studies on water quality issues in the Rio Grande Basin as well as support their efforts to gain funding for these projects. In order to better understand the concerns of various stakeholders in the Basin, CRP staff has looked into “incorporating” the annual meetings with other groups in the basin in an effort to receive greater input into the program and to inform more members of the public about our efforts in the basin. CRP will continue to hold meetings within each sub-basin and strive to improve communication with basin stakeholders as well as improving communication with stakeholders outside the CRP monitoring area such as Mexico and New Mexico. In order to better track basin wide issues, the CRP should acquire water quality data from Mexico and New Mexico for assessment of the entire basin and for improved source tracking.
URI: http://bva.colech.edu.mx/xmlui/handle/123456789/HASH272e2dc11716087ce68efd
Date: 2012-03-09

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Observatorio Ambiental de El Colegio de Chihuahua (COLECH)
Biblioteca Virtual Ambiental del Estado de Chihuahua (BVA)
Correo electrónico: bva@colech.edu.mx

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