Landowners lead watershed restoration in Panhandle, Rolling Plains
Landowners in the Buck Creek watershed were the driving force behind the successful restoration of the watershed and its removal from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's list of impaired water bodies, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service staff involved in the restoration efforts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently highlighted the Buck Creek watershed in the Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains as Texas' fifth water quality restoration success story.
"The removal of Buck Creek from the impaired list is a direct result of the efforts of local landowners," said Phyllis Dyer, research associate at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Vernon and the Buck Creek watershed coordinator.
"As a result of voluntary implementation of conservation practices by landowners that were based on data collection, analysis, education and outreach delivered in the watershed, E. coli levels in Buck Creek have dropped below impairment levels," Dyer said.
"This success story for Buck Creek and the state of Texas attests to the power of dedication and cooperation of all involved," said John Sweeten, Ph.D., resident director and professor at the Vernon center. "It was a coordinated effort by local landowners, soil and water conservation districts, AgriLife Research scientists, and AgriLife Extension associates and county agents."
Located in Donley, Collingsworth and Childress counties, Buck Creek was originally listed as being impaired for elevated bacteria levels in 2000.
Lucas Gregory, Texas Water Resources Institute project manager for Buck Creek, said beginning in 2002, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board worked with landowners to secure the scientific information needed to better evaluate water quality in the creek and potential sources of bacteria across the watershed.
The board provided funding through its Nonpoint Source Grant Program supported by the EPA under the Clean Water Act.
Initially, AgriLife Research staff collected water quality data and conducted a source survey of the watershed, according to John Sij, Ph.D., retired agronomist and former project leader at the Vernon center.
"This effort verified that bacteria levels periodically reach problematic levels," he said.
Paul DeLaune, Ph.D., AgriLife Research environmental soil scientist at Vernon, continued water quality monitoring efforts to bring scientific information to the landowners.
Water samples were processed using bacterial-source tracking under the direction of George Di Giovanni, Ph.D., former professor of environmental microbiology at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center at El Paso, now at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health in El Paso.
"Using bacterial source tracking, we determined what the general sources of bacteria were in the creek," Di Giovanni said.
R. Karthikeyan, Ph.D., associate professor in Texas A&M University's biological and agricultural engineering department, developed a watershed model for Buck Creek that estimates the potential pollutant contributions for catchments within the watershed.
"This tool provided useful information for planning and implementation of management practices so that we could achieve the most pollutant reduction for the dollar spent," Karthikeyan said.
"Combined, these efforts provided information to the landowners that they needed to make informed management decisions," DeLaune said.
As research progressed, information was delivered to watershed stakeholders through an extensive series of public meetings and workshops, Gregory said.
"Landowners were led by the institute and AgriLife Research personnel from the Vernon center in developing a watershed protection plan designed to restore Buck Creek," he said.
Even before the plan was completed, landowners began implementing conservation practices across the watershed, DeLaune said.
"Landowners used information provided to them through workshops and field days hosted by AgriLife and supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, local soil and water conservation districts and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel to voluntarily implement practices on their property," he said.
Gregory said that some landowners used their own money while others used assistance programs such as those offered by local soil and water conservation districts, and state and federal agencies.
Burl Brim, a local landowner, said landowners learned some important things through this process.
"Getting involved with local water issues is an opportunity to learn," he said. "It's important to find out what other folks are doing to protect the environment and how one can help."
For more information on the efforts to restore water quality in Buck Creek and to read the complete water quality success story from EPA, visit buckcreek.tamu.edu.