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Technical Assistance Supporting Cooperative Conservation in South Central Texas

Cooperative conservation is a voluntary and incentive-based concept where people associate together voluntarily to pursue common conservation goals. It describes the efforts of landowners, communities, conservation groups, industry, and governmental agencies who join together to conserve our environment. Through cooperative conservation, citizens from every walk of life enhance, restore, and protect land, water, air, and wildlife resources on public and private lands. These citizens play a central and substantive role in the stewardship and governance of the environments in which they live, work, and play. Cooperative conservation is rooted in local action and reliant on local, experiential knowledge as well as science, using the innovation and creativity of citizens as the engine that drives problem solving. This approach is non-partisan and is the practical option to litigation and polarization that otherwise divide Americans.

In August 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Executive Order titled Facilitation of Cooperative Conservation which directs federal agencies that oversee environmental and natural resource policies and programs, including EPA and USDA, to promote cooperative conservation in full partnership with states, local governments, private for-profit and nonprofit institutions, other nongovernmental entities and individuals. In an effort to promote this executive order, the White House Council on Environmental Quality convened a White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation in August 2005 to strengthen shared governance and citizen stewardship. Key stakeholders and decision makers from both the public and private sectors came together to advance this vision. Conferees discussed mechanisms to enhance and integrate public and private land stewardship and to enhance on-the-ground conservation results and progress.

Texas has a well-established history of Cooperative Conservation. Agricultural producers, along with SWCDs, TSSWCB, NRCS and EPA, have been collaborating to protect the natural resources of the Lone Star State for decades. Farmers and ranchers routinely implement best management practices (BMPs) on their lands utilizing the cost-share and technical assistance programs of SWCDs, who receive state and federal funds from TSSWCB, EPA and NRCS. Because of this, the State of Texas has been able to demonstrate major successes in the improvement of water quality conditions through on-the-ground conservation results and progress.

The TSSWCB is the lead agency in Texas for planning, implementing, and managing programs and practices for preventing and abating agricultural and silvicultural nonpoint source pollution. The TSSWCB Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) Program affords agricultural producers an opportunity to comply with state water quality laws through traditional voluntary incentive-based programs. A WQMP is a site-specific plan developed through and approved by SWCDs which includes appropriate land treatment practices, production practices, management measures, and technologies that prevent and abate agricultural and silvicultural nonpoint source pollution. The BMPs prescribed in a WQMP are rooted in the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide. SWCDs provide for technical assistance to producers seeking to develop a WQMP. TSSWCB and NRCS have various cost-share programs which provide financial assistance to producers in implementing a WQMP.

3EQIPTech Map 2

Nearly half of the waterbodies on the 2004 Texas 303(d) 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 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), in collaboration with TSSWCB, is currently facilitating the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these, and other bacteria-impaired waters.

Elm Creek (Segment 1803A) originates in the eastern part of Wilson County and flows eastward to its confluence with Sandies Creek. Sandies Creek (Segment 1803B) originates in southwestern Guadalupe County and flows southeastward to its confluence with the Guadalupe River. The Elm and Sandies Creeks Watershed covers 455,283 acres in portions of Gonzales, Karnes, Wilson, DeWitt and Guadalupe Counties.

Peach Creek (Segment 1803C) rises in southern Bastrop County and flows south to its confluence with the Guadalupe River. The Peach Creek Watershed covers 309,047 acres in portions of Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette, and Gonzales Counties.

The Lower San Antonio River (Segment 1901) begins as it Mays Crossing near Falls City in Karnes County and flows southeasterly to its confluence with the Guadalupe River near San Antonio Bay. The Lower San Antonio River Watershed covers 812,670 acres in portions of DeWitt, Goliad, Karnes, Refugio, and Victoria Counties.

The Atascosa River (Segment 2107) rises in extreme northwestern Atascosa County and flows southeastward to its confluence with the Frio River below Choke Canyon Reservoir. The Atascosa River Watershed covers 892,503 acres in portions of Atascosa, Live Oak, Karnes, Wilson, Bexar, Frio, McMullen and Medina Counties.

In 2005 TSSWCB and TCEQ worked with NRCS to establish an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas. Reauthorized in the 2002 federal Farm Bill, EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that supports production agriculture and environmental quality as compatible goals. Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers receive financial assistance with structural and management conservation practices on their land. The program is designed to address both locally identified resources concerns and state priorities.

The EQIP State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas is directed toward protection of streams impacted by bacterial contamination from livestock. Good grazing management and alternative water sources will be promoted in the watersheds of Elm and Sandies Creeks, Peach Creek, Lower San Antonio River and Atascosa River. EQIP financial assistance will be available for BMPs such as cross fencing, water wells, riparian buffers, watering facilities and prescribed grazing. Applications are ranked for funding with those livestock operations located in close proximity to impacted streams obtaining a higher rank.

In federal FY2006, only about 28% of the $800,000 allocated for this State Resource Concern was obligated by livestock producers. Various factors contributed to this low utilization of funds in these priority watersheds. This was the first year for this State Resource Concern. There was limited promotion of cost-share availability. Dedicated technical assistance from local SWCDs is needed to promote the program and to assist landowners in the development and implementation of BMPs.

This EQIP State Resource Concern leverages other federal and state programs that contribute to water quality improvements within these watersheds. TSSWCB has established an EPA CWA §319(h) grant project (#05-08), that provides technical and financial assistance, through the Gonzales County SWCD, for development and implementation of WQMPs on livestock operations contiguous with Peach Creek. TSSWCB has also allocated state funds, via the Gonzales County SWCD, to poultry operations in Peach Creek, Elm and Sandies Creeks, and other nearby watersheds for development and implementation of WQMPs. Both of these projects support implementation activities associated with the TMDLs being developed for bacteria impairments in these watersheds.

TSSWCB will administer federal CWA §319(h) funds through the lead SWCDs for support of three District Technicians who will provide technical assistance to livestock operators in developing and implementing WQMPs in the Elm and Sandies Creeks, Lower San Antonio River, and Atascosa River watersheds. These Technicians will assist ranchers in acquiring EQIP cost-share for the implementation of BMPs through the State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas. This CWA §319(h) grant will improve and enhance the abilities of local SWCDs to assist area landowners in preventing and abating agricultural nonpoint source pollution.

Technicians will be placed in the three lead SWCDs and will work in 11 adjacent SWCDs through cooperative agreements. The three Technicians will work under direction of the lead SWCDs, with assistance from the TSSWCB Wharton Regional Office and NRCS, as needed.

Lead SWCDs - Atascosa County SWCD #307, DeWitt County SWCD #339, Karnes County SWCD #343

Cooperating SWCDs - Medina Valley SWCD #226, Wilson County SWCD #301, Comal-Guadalupe SWCD #306, Live Oak SWCD #323, Frio SWCD #325, Copano Bay SWCD #329, Alamo SWCD #330, Gonzales County SWCD #338, Victoria SWCD #346, Goliad County SWCD #352, McMullen County SWCD #353

The three Technicians will be stationed in Cuero (Elm and Sandies Creeks), Kenedy (Lower San Antonio River), and Pleasanton (Atascosa River). The associated Peach Creek Technician (TSSWCB CWA §319(h) Grant #05-08) is stationed in Gonzales.

Allocation of the EQIP South Central Texas Water Quality State Resource Concern is designated for the Elm and Sandies Creeks, Peach Creek, Lower San Antonio River and Atascosa River watersheds, collectively. Since funding is not divided among the individual watersheds, more WQMP development work may exist in one watershed versus another based on ranking results. As such, the three Technicians will be based in three different SWCDs and will primarily work in a single watershed, yet they may work with producers in other priority watersheds depending on WQMP development workload.

The Technicians will be critically important in promoting the components of this project, including WQMP development and EQIP cost-share availability, and encouraging participation from livestock producers. The Technicians will 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. The Technicians will work with commodity organizations, such as Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas (ICA), and Texas Farm Bureau (TFB), to educate their members on this opportunity to enhance the value of their operation and achieve water quality goals for the watershed at the same time. The Technicians will participate in the stakeholder process for TMDL development and implementation, facilitated by TCEQ, for their respective watersheds in order to efficiently and effectively achieve project goals and to summarize activities and achievements made throughout the course of this project.

The Technicians, with assistance from NRCS and TSSWCB regional offices, will assist landowners in the development of WQMPs and Prescribed Grazing Plans. To obtain a WQMP, landowners and operators must first submit a request to the local SWCD. The SWCD reviews the request and assigns a number to each request. Upon approval by the SWCD, the technician will work with the landowner to develop a WQMP. WQMPs are developed according to the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide. An example of activities on which the technician will work include:

  • Development of conservation plan maps showing boundaries, fields, land use, acres and facilities
  • Acquisition of soil maps with appropriate interpretations
  • Development of an implementation schedule
  • Completion of appropriate worksheets used during the planning phases (forage inventories, grazing plans, erosion worksheets, and field notes)

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 technician will work with the landowner to implement the BMPs prescribed in the WQMP.

The Technicians, with assistance from NRCS, will assist landowners in applying for and obtaining cost-share funds through the EQIP State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas to aid in implementation of BMPs prescribed in WQMPs. The Technicians will conduct annual status reviews on all WQMPs developed and certified through the course of this project to ensure that the landowners implement BMPs as specified and agreed to in the WQMP implementation schedule. The Technicians will track utilization of obligated cost-share funds from the EQIP State Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas and assist landowners in utilizing obligated cost-share funds on schedule. The Technicians will complete an aggregate final report which describes the success of the project including WQMPs developed, BMPs implemented, and EQIP cost-share obligated and utilized.

Coordinated technical assistance from local SWCDs, TSSWCB and NRCS will provide livestock producers an opportunity to comply with state water quality laws through a traditional voluntary incentive based program. Cooperative Conservation demonstrated through this project will contribute to the restoration of water quality to support contact recreation in the Elm and Sandies Creeks, Atascosa River and Lower San Antonio River watersheds.

Project Goals/Objectives: To foster coordinated technical assistance between TSSWCB, SWCDs and NRCSTo promote availability of technical and financial assistance to livestock producers. To provide technical assistance to livestock producers for development of WQMPs. To assist livestock producers in utilizing EQIP Statewide Resource Concern for Water Quality in South Central Texas. To conduct status reviews on WQMPs to track implementation success.

Project Location: Atascosa River (2107) Watershed in Atascosa, Bexar, Frio, Karnes, Live Oak, McMullen, Medina and Wilson Counties.  Elm and Sandies Creeks (1803A, 1803B) Watershed in Gonzales, DeWitt, Karnes, Wilson and Guadalupe Counties.Peach Creek (1803C) Watershed in Gonzales, Bastrop, Fayette and Caldwell Counties. Lower San Antonio River (1901) Watershed in Karnes, Goliad, Refugio, DeWitt, Wilson, Victoria, and Guadalupe Counties

Project Costs: Federal ($450,075); Non Federal Match ($0); Total Project: ($450,075)

Project Participant(s): TSSWCB, Atascosa County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD 307), Gonzales County Soil and Water Conservation District( SWCD 338), Karnes Karnes County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD 343), and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Project Workplan: 10-03

Final Report: 10-03

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