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Implementing the Arroyo Colorado WPP by Providing Technical and Financial Assistance to Reduce Agricultural NPS

Project Background: The Arroyo Colorado (Segment 2201 and 2202), an ancient distributary channel of the Rio Grande, extends about 90 miles from Mission, Texas to the Laguna Madre in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Flow in the Arroyo Colorado is sustained by wastewater discharges, agricultural irrigation return flows, urban runoff, and base flows from shallow groundwater. Elevated levels of bacteria and low dissolved oxygen have severely impacted recreational use of the lower Arroyo Colorado for fishing and swimming. In 2002 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) determined in a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study that a 90 percent reduction of nutrients and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) was needed to achieve healthy waters. This TMDL was not adopted.

To address the Arroyo Colorado’s bacteria and dissolved oxygen impairment as well as nutrient concerns, the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership developed A Watershed Protection Plan for the Arroyo Colorado – Phase I. Since the publication of the watershed protection plan (WPP) in January 2007, the Partnership has been working on implementation of management measures to improve water quality and natural habitat in the Arroyo Colorado. The objective of components of the Arroyo Colorado WPP addressing agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is to encourage the voluntary adoption of best management practices (BMPs) to reduce suspended sediment levels resulting from cropland erosion, BOD from runoff of crop residue, and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer runoff from irrigated cropland fields. The WPP concludes that approximately 300,000 acres of irrigated cropland lies within the Arroyo Colorado watershed. The WPP sets an interim goal to achieve the voluntary adoption of agricultural BMPs on 33% of the irrigated cropland (100,000 acres) by 2010 and a final goal of BMPs on 50% of the irrigated cropland (150,000 acres) by 2015.

Project Goals/Objectives: This project will provide technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers in developing and implementing water quality management plans (WQMPs) in the Arroyo Colorado watershed. A Natural Resources Specialist (NRS) and District Technician will develop plans and assist producers in acquiring cost-share assistance for the implementation of BMPs.

The NRS and the District Technician will be critically important in promoting the components of this project, including WQMP development and cost-share availability, and encouraging participation from agricultural producers. The NRS and the District Technician will work with NRCS and Texas AgriLife Extension Service (AgriLife Extension) to educate producers about water quality issues and how WQMPs and BMPs address pollutant loadings from agriculture.

The NRS and the District Technician, with assistance from NRCS, will assist landowners in the development of WQMPs. A WQMP is a site-specific plan developed through and approved by SWCDs which includes appropriate land treatment practices, production practices, managemnet measures, and technologies that prevent and abate agricultural and silvicultural NPS pollution. The BMPs prescribed in a WQMP are defined in the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide. By statute, WQMPs are developed so that their implementation achieves a level of pollution prevention or abatement that is consistent with State water quality standards. Once the WQMP is developed, it is sent to the appropriate TSSWCB regional office for technical review and certification. Upon certification of the WQMP, the NRS and the District Technician will work with the landowner to implement the BMPs prescribed in the WQMP.

The NRS and the District Technician, with assistance from NRCS, will assist landowners in applying for and obtaining cost-share funds to aid in implementation of BMPs prescribed in WQMPs. This project will provide cost-share through the TSSWCB WQMP Program with allocations to SWCD 319 and SWCD 350. The NRS and the District Technician will assist producers with WQMPs in acquiring EQIP financial assistance through 1) county-level funding and 2) the State Resource Concern for Water Quantity-Irrigation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Project Location: Arroyo Colorado Watershed

Project Costs: Federal ($532,516); Non Federal Match ($200,000); Total Project: ($732,516)

Project Participant(s): TSSWCB, Southmost Soil and Water Conservation District, and Hidalgo Soil and Water Conservation District

Project Website:

Project Workplan: 09-09

"Protecting and Enhancing Natural Resources since 1939."

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