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Statewide water quality solutions to be addressed during forum at The University of Texas at Austin

Cleaning up Texas’ waterways will be the central issue when some of the environmental community’s top problem-solvers meet Feb. 7-8 at The University of Texas at Austin’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus to address pollution in the state’s rivers, lakes and estuaries.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Cleaning up Texas’ waterways will be the central issue when some of the environmental community’s top problem-solvers meet Feb. 7-8 at The University of Texas at Austin’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus to address pollution in the state’s rivers, lakes and estuaries.

The Center for Research on Water Resources at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Engineering will host the forum. The event is free and open to the public but online registration is required. The Web site address is <http://www.texastmdl.org>. Applications will be taken until all 300 slots are filled.

Toxic heavy metals like mercury, remnants of long-banned organic poisons, biological pathogens and the chemical nutrients that nourish them, even a lack of dissolved oxygen: all contribute to Texas’ widespread water pollution woes. Effects range from DDT found in the tissues of Dallas-area river fish to bacteria and dioxins disrupting aquatic life and recreation in Houston’s bayous to abnormally low oxygen levels in parts of Austin’s Lake Travis.

The event will focus on an ongoing effort by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission called the Total Maximum Daily Road (TMDL) Program. TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can contain and still be in compliance with the U.S. Clean Water Act for specific uses like drinking and aquatic recreation. Water with TMDL levels above those permissible is said to be "impaired."

The program is part of an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led initiative to improve water quality nationwide, beginning with identifying impaired waterways. In Texas, 85 of 250 counties have identified impaired waterways.

Lawrence Starfield, EPA deputy administrator for Region 6, which includes Texas, and Robert Huston, chair of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, will set the tone on Thursday at 1 p.m. with their joint presentation, The Future of Water Quality Protection. Their focus will be on the implementation of appropriate corrective action that restores the quality of impaired waters.

Friday morning’s presentations will cover state-of-the-art technical methods for assessing specific pollutants, including heavy metals, microbial pathogens, excessive chemical nutrients and the conditions, which create oxygen deficits. The afternoon session will address the university’s role in implementing the water cleanup initiative in Texas.

Dr. David Maidment, director of the Center for Research in Water Resources, said the university should be "a place where people can find solutions rather than resorting to litigation.

“I think the TMDL program has the potential to be the environmental push of this decade, much as groundwater cleanup was in the last decade,” he said.

Other co-sponsors of the event include the Texas Water Research Institute, the agriculture program of the Texas AandM University System, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

For more information, contact Sharon Bernard, Center for Research in Water Resources, (512) 471-0076.

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