Partnership releases final draft of plan to reduce fecal matter in San Jacinto River
The West Fork Watershed Partnership posted the final draft of a plan to reduce fecal matter that is polluting the West Fork San Jacinto River and Lake Creek, both of which flow into one of the Houston area’s primary supplies of public-use water — Lake Houston.
The WFWP includes local stakeholders, such as governmental entities, business and individuals, who are collaborating to address the West Fork and Lake Creek waterways’ failure to meet Texas’ water quality standards.
Bringing the water’s fecal content into compliance with quality standards is a primary objective, according to Houston-Galveston Area Council senior planner of community and environmental planning, Justin Bower, who is managing the partnership project.
The WFWP’s plan, outlined in a document called “The West Fork San Jacinto River and Lake Creek Watershed Protection Plan,” or “WPP,” is in the final review stages and can be found at https://westfork.weebly.com/project-documents.html.
After the review window ends, the final draft of the WPP will be submitted for review to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and then to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval, which will open up more funding source possibilities.
Collectively, initiatives included in the WPP are expected to cost millions of dollars; however, Bower explained that the WPP is an opportunity-based plan that will be carried out as resources become available. Due to the plan’s variability, more exact cost projections and funding sources are unknown at this time.
The development of the WPP was funded by a $450,000 TCEQ grant. The TCEQ recently extended a contract to allow HGAC to stay on as the WPP regional facilitator during the first year of implementation. About $80,000 was left over from the TCEQ grant, which can be used on first-year efforts.
The WPP includes water quality improvement project goals through the year 2030.
Although the WPP was developed by the HGAC with stakeholder input, the implementation of projects is ultimately driven by the local stakeholders. Bower said now is the perfect time for organizations and individuals to get involved with the effort.
The WFWP has been conducting educational outreach efforts while moving through the process of getting final approval for the WPP.
Now, Bower said the WFWP is gearing-up with partners to start planning to move forward on WPP initiatives.
“We’re going to get people involved in some of the actual implementation-side of things,” Bower said. “We will be looking at doing some of the more structural stuff in the next 6 months or so.”
One of the structural projects is installing pet waste stations in public areas.
“It’s one of the low-hanging fruit, easy things we often do because it’s very visible and it serves a big need,” Bower said. “Pet waste is one of the large sources of fecal waste and it’s visible, unlike some of the behind-the-scenes stuff we may do with partners, this is something that really interacts with the public pretty solidly.”
Another focus will be on an ongoing supplemental environmental project with the TCEQ to fix failing septic systems. The program allows a permitted water, or wastewater facility that is fined for a water-related violation, to elect to put a certain amount of the fine they would have paid TCEQ toward local projects.
“We have a project to fix failing septic systems, or aerobic systems, for low-income households,” Bower said. “If folks meet the income requirements, we can go in and use the money at no cost to them to fix failing septic systems. That project really came out of what our partners told us was a big need locally. We have a lot of issues with failing septic systems and because it’s human waste, it’s more of a concern to us than some other sources of waste.”
He said the funds are directed towards priority watersheds, like the West Fork and Lake Creek area.
“That’s one of the big pushes we’ll be making,” Bower said. “It’s something we’ll be pursuing for the next several years, even if we don’t have an ongoing grant up there, that’s an ongoing project.”
For more details, refer to an Observer Newspaper article written about the WPP draft released in May: https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/kingwood/news/article/Fecal-waste-targeted-in-West-Fork-water-quality-12928052.php.