The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires States to develop a program to protect the quality of water resources from the adverse effects of nonpoint source (NPS) water pollution. NPS pollution is all water pollution that does not originate from regulated point sources. Types of regulated point sources include wastewater treatment facilities, municipal stormwater systems, and concentrated animal feeding operations. NPS pollution occurs when rainfall flows off the land, roads, buildings, and other features of the landscape. This diffuse runoff carries pollutants into drainage ditches, lakes, rivers, wetlands, bays, and aquifers. Common NPS pollutants include:
- Fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas;
- Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from spills, roads, urban areas, and energy production;
- Sediment from construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding stream banks; and
- Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and leaking septic systems.
The Texas NPS Management Program is the State's comprehensive strategy for addressing NPS pollution. The program publication is updated every five years. The most recent revision was submitted to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Governor in April 2022. The Texas NPS Management Program is jointly administered by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The Texas NPS Management Program utilizes baseline water quality management programs and regulatory, voluntary, financial, and technical assistance approaches to achieve a balanced program. NPS pollution is managed through assessment, planning, implementation, and education. The TCEQ and TSSWCB have established goals and objectives for guiding and tracking the progress of NPS management in Texas. Success in achieving the goals and objectives are reported annually in the Annual Report on Managing NPS Water Pollution in Texas, which is submitted to EPA in accordance with the CWA.
Implementation of the Texas NPS Management Program involves partnerships among many organizations. With the extent and variety of NPS issues across Texas, cooperation across political boundaries is essential. Many local, regional, state, and federal agencies play an integral part in managing NPS pollution, especially at the watershed level. They provide information about local concerns and infrastructure and build support for the kind of pollution controls that are necessary to prevent and reduce NPS pollution. Soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) are vital partners in working with landowners to implement best management practices (BMPs) that prevent and abate agricultural and silvicultural NPS water pollution. By establishing coordinated frameworks to share information and resources, the State can more effectively focus its water quality protection efforts.
Protecting the State’s rivers, streams, lakes, bays, and aquifers from the impacts of NPS pollution is a complex process. Texas uses the Watershed Approach to focus efforts on the highest priority water quality issues of both surface and ground water. The Watershed Approach is based on the following principles:
- Geographic focus based on hydrology rather than political boundaries;
- Water quality objectives based on scientific data;
- Coordinated priorities and integrated solutions; and,
- Diverse, well-integrated partnerships.
For groundwater management, the geographic focus is on aquifers rather than watersheds. Otherwise, the approach is the same. Wherever interactions between surface and ground water are identified, management activities will support the quality of both resources.
The TSSWCB applies the Watershed Approach to managing NPS pollution by channeling its efforts to restore and protect water quality through the development and implementation of watershed protection plans (WPPs) and total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) in those watersheds where agricultural and/or silvicultural NPS pollution is contributing to a water quality impairment or concern to an extent which TSSWCB believes is sufficient to justify expenditure of agency resources.
Watershed Action Planning
Watershed Action Planning is a process for coordinating, documenting, and tracking the State’s water quality management programs, including the activities of the Texas NPS Management Program. The Watershed Action Planning process coordinates planning and activities among TCEQ, TSSWCB, the Texas Clean Rivers Program partners, and stakeholders at the watershed level. The process can have significant implications for regional and local residents. The major objectives of Watershed Action Planning are to:
- engage stakeholders more fully in determining strategies that restore water quality,
- improve access to state agencies’ water quality management decisions and increase transparency of decision-making, and improve accountability of state agencies’ commitments to improve water quality.
The Watershed Action Planning process recognizes a range of tools and options for abating and preventing water pollution. The Watershed Action Planning process provides for a stakeholder-led evaluation of watershed-specific circumstances and a deliberative and collective decision as to the comprehensive strategy for improving the quality of impaired waters and protecting waterbodies of special interest. Those strategies are summarized in the Watershed Action Planning Strategy Table which is maintained by TCEQ.
Nonpoint Source Grant Program
The NPS Grant Program is administered by the TSSWCB for the purpose of providing funding as grants to cooperating entities for activities that address the goals and objectives stated in the Texas NPS Management Program. The Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress (through the EPA) provide funding to the TSSWCB to administer the agricultural and silvicultural components of the Texas NPS Management Program through the TSSWCB NPS Grant Program.
Agricultural and silvicultural NPS pollution prevention and abatement activities that can be funded through the NPS Grant Program include: implementation of WPPs and the NPS portion of TMDL Implementation Plans (I-Plans), surface water quality monitoring, demonstration of innovative BMPs, technical assistance and financial incentives for the development and implementation of TSSWCB-certified water quality management plans (WQMPs), public outreach and education, development of WPPs, and monitoring activities to determine the effectiveness of specific pollution prevention methods.
CWA §319(h) Grant Funding
Congress enacted §319(h) of the CWA in 1987, establishing a national program to control NPS water pollution. Through §319(h), federal funds are provided annually through the EPA to States for the development and implementation of each State's NPS Management Program. The §319(h) funding in Texas is divided equally between the TCEQ and the TSSWCB. Over the last two years, the State's allocation has been approximately $7 million.
State General Revenue Grant Funding
The Texas Legislature has appropriated general revenue funds to the TSSWCB for the purpose of planning, implementing, and managing programs and practices for preventing and abating agricultural and silvicultural NPS water pollution in impaired watersheds. TSSWCB is committed to funding projects encompassing monitoring, assessment, modeling, planning, education, and implementation that address the goals and objectives stated in the Texas NPS Management Program.