Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Texas A&M-Kingsville Part of Efforts That Led to Stormwater Management Plans for Rio Grande Valley Cities

KINGSVILLE - April 17, 2009

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361.593.4143

University and multiple city officials further environment, higher ed in South Texas

There is an old cliché that rain washes away impurities and leaves the world clean as it passes. The truth is that stormwaters pick up impurities from cities and housing developments and carry them into rivers, creeks, lakes and other bodies of water we drink and swim in.

Consider that those impurities include pesticides, oil, chemical spills and trash, and one can see the importance of stormwater regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Toward the end of the 1990s, the TCEQ announced to Texas cities of 1,000 people or more per square mile (which designates them as urban areas) that they would have to comply with a set of new agency rules known as the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Phase II rules.

Among these rules were seven minimum stormwater control measures. These measures included public outreach, public involvement, illicit discharge detection/elimination, construction storm water run off, good house keeping and post-construction/re-development stormwater management.

Staffers from the City of Mission were among those that were thinking of the most effective way for their city to comply with the rules and earn the required TCEQ stormwater permit by the set deadline of March 2003. The staffers turned to a former environmental engineer for the City of McAllen, Javier Guerrero, who at the time was with the South Texas Environmental Institute (STEI) in the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Guerrero and Dr. Andrew Ernest, then-chair of the college’s environmental engineering department, developed the concept of a task force among the Rio Grande towns and cities that could assist each other in complying with the new stormwater TDPES regulations. Guerrero brought 20 cities into what became the Rio Grande Valley TPDES Stormwater Task Force in 2002.

The purpose of the task force was to have A&M-Kingsville engineering researchers, led by Guerrero, assist the cities in putting together a regional stormwater management plan they could present to the TCEQ and use to earn the required permit. In the time that followed, litigation would push the permit deadline to February 11, 2008, and some cities would become exempt from the Phase II rules. When all was said and done, the remaining 15 cities in the Task Force met the TCEQ deadline, and all 15 cities received a stormwater TPDES permit.

Those cities were Alamo, Alton, Brownsville, Donna, Harlingen, La Feria, La Joya, McAllen, Mission, Palmhurst, Pharr, San Benito, San Juan, Santa Rosa, and Weslaco. Each used the regional stormwater management plan worked up by the Task Force except for McAllen, which used an independent stormwater management plan, but continued serving in the Task Force and exchanging information.

“The fact that all 15 cities were granted a stormwater drainage permit was a very satisfying milestone for the Stormwater Task Force, the South Texas Environmental Institute and Texas A&M-Kingsville,” said Abel P. Garza, environmental liaison officer for the STEI who joined the group in May 2007.

Joe Hinojosa, environmental director for the City of Brownsville and Task Force chair, offers much credit to the group. “The Task Force was extremely critical for all member cities to not only successfully apply and receive the TCEQ storm water permit, but to more fundamentally understand and interpret its provisions and requirements. 

“Speaking for myself, but I am sure most if not all members share this sentiment, I am extremely grateful that Texas A&M-Kingsville took it upon itself to initiate this effort at the onset. Fortunately, I have seen the coalition evolve in a masterful program of mutual benefit to not only the member cities, but also to the university, in large part to the relentless effort of Mr. Guerrero and his staff. He has been instrumental to keeping the Task Force on task and to moving forward with the five year plan to bring it to its eventual and successful completion.”

According to Dr. Kim Jones, department chair for environmental engineering at Texas A&M-Kingsville, “The Task Force is very unique in addressing these issues for so many small but extremely fast growing communities which are thriving in such a biodiverse geographical region.  Thus the need for cooperation was strong to address urban water quality issues.

“The task force has been an excellent vehicle to get water quality awareness and education into the schools and classrooms.”

Guerrero said the goals of the task force are parallel with the urban components of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Protection Plan, which was released in 2007 and designed to restore and protect the Arroyo Colorado and remove the arroyo from the state’s list of impaired waters. The task force works with the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership to implement these goals.

Guerrero cites a number of reasons why he feels the Task Force has been a complete success. “The College of Engineering and the Task Force have built relationships with local governments, universities and school districts, as well as with state and federal regulators.

“Numerous research projects and publications have resulted from direct and indirect relationships with the aforementioned. Furthermore, several components of the stormwater management plan promote educational outreach and recruiting opportunities for the College of Engineering. In fact, this year the College of Engineering is offering scholarships to students and stipends to teachers as a result of partnerships established through work done by the Task Force.”

The TCEQ stormwater permit will be valid for the next five years for the 14 Task Force member cities. As part of the regional stormwater management plan used to secure the permits, Task Force members have already started visiting Rio Grande Valley school districts classrooms educating students on various stormwater subjects.

In addition, the Task Force member cities along with the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership will observe Earth Day this April with middle and high school students installing metal markers on storm drains. The markers will highlight the importance of the drains and of keeping yards, streets and parking lots clean of trash, oils and chemicals. 

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