Texas A&M University-Kingsville

A&M-Kingsville Environmental Engineering Program Receives $1.5 Million TCEQ Grant

KINGSVILLE - November 02, 2010

Contact: Adriana Garza
adriana.garza@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4979

Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE) has received $1.5 million from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality(TCEQ)/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help construct, promote and implement low impact development in the rapidly-growing Lower Rio Grande Valley. The grant is funded by the Clean Water Act (CWA) Chapter 319 urban non point source (NPS) pollution prevention program.

As the Lower Rio Grande Valley continues to grow at a rapid pace, initiating environmentally conscientious practices will be key to ensuring proper conservation. The Lower Rio Grande Valley Low Impact Development (LID) Implementation and Education program will aim to implement “green” best management practices when it comes to controlling stormwater runoff. ISEE—part of the Department of Environmental Engineering in the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at A&M-Kingsville—will work with the cities of Brownsville, Weslaco, Pharr and San Juan to advance safe, low impact development, or development that emphasizes conservation and helps manage stormwater runoff.  Other project partners include the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, University of Texas-Brownsville and the Valley Nature Center.

The cities involved in the project are members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Taskforce. The taskforce serves as the vehicle through which the member cities and Cameron County developed the grant proposal and applied together with A&M-Kingsville for the grant. Additionally, the taskforce, with coordination from A&M-Kingsville, will manage the multiple projects.

“The TCEQ grant is a great opportunity for A&M-Kingsville to connect with the communities in the lower Rio Grande Valley and help promote smart growth, especially in reducing runoff pollution,” said Dr. Stephan Nix, dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering. “I am particularly looking forward to the innovative approaches our students and faculty will develop as part of the grant.”

Dr. Kim Jones, professor of environmental engineering at A&M-Kingsville, said the cooperation between the entities involved with the project is unique and reflects the unity of purpose in promoting stormwater management.

“We will be demonstrating these projects to show communities that they work,” Jones said.

Controlling stormwater runoff is a critical challenge, since runoff from new development contributes to surface water contamination. Typically, land development involves clearing a site of all vegetative and natural landscape materials and replacing them with paved roads, parking lots, buildings and exotic landscapes. These new developments then contribute to non-point source pollution—contamination of a body of water from runoff originating from places other than a single-source location, such as a factory or storm drain.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, non-point source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. Types of non-point source pollution include fertilizers and insecticides from agricultural and residential areas, oil from urban run-off and bacteria and nutrients from faulty septic systems.

The $1.5 million grant will fund four types of low-impact stormwater control projects, beginning in January. These best management practices will use an area’s natural features and native vegetation to manage stormwater and ensure that areas of development are protected. A&M-Kingsville engineering students will receive funding to assist in the design and completion of the projects and will work closely with each city to monitor and evaluate each design. A key aspect of the project will require A&M-Kingsville researchers to determine the water quality treatment potential of the four low-impact development features. The project will aim to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, suspended solids and bacteria from the stormwater runoff at the project sites.  Among the low-impact development methods the grant will fund are: 

  • Green roofs: Municipal building roofs will feature plant material that will absorb rain water, thus limiting the amount of runoff.
  • Pervious pavements: Designed to allow water to soak through to soil, which will then naturally rid storm water of pollutants, pervious pavements do not shed rainfall as typical pavements do.
  • Rainwater harvesting: Collecting rain water in rain harvesting systems allows users to utilize the water collected from rooftops, gutters and store it in tanks to use for irrigation and septic purposes.
  • Constructed wetlands: The construction of new, artificial wetlands allows for stormwater to drain out of areas of development and into an artificial wetlands area, where plants can use the sediments and minerals in the stormwater to grow.

Implementing effective stormwater management is of particular urgency throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where non-point source pollution already has adversely impacted the nearby Arroyo Colorado and Laguna Madre—a body of water already considered below standard water quality. “The Lower Rio Grande Valley also poses additional unique stormwater management challenges, including the area’s yearly bimodal rainfall pattern,” Jones said.

“We’ll have to study and develop ways to quickly evaluate the innovations and demonstrate ways to prove they are working or make modifications,” Jones said. “Then we’ll consider how we can extrapolate these best practices to the entire watershed.” Another important component of the project, and it is somewhat unchartered territory for the environmental engineering group, the findings of this project may promote change in planning, development and infrastructure strategies in the region. If the results of the study demonstrate positive, effective scientific data, and thus cost-effective and sound innovative engineering techniques, low impact development practices will be incorporated into the overall stormwater management plans of the local governments.

A second grant application for expanded LID funding in the Valley was submitted in October with the participation of the cities of Harlingen, La Feria, La Joya, Alton, Pharr, Valley Nature Center (Weslaco), Cameron County Drainage District #1, and Weslaco, which is additional testimony to the unity of purpose and cooperative nature of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Taskforce to address water quality improvement on a broad scale, noted Jones.

About the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Task Force:

Formed in 2002, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Task Force has brought together 15 cities and one county with a unity of purpose to protect water quality and mitigate non-point source pollution. Led by Jose Hinojosa of the City of Brownsville and Javier Guerrero, Texas A&M University-Kingsville research engineering associate, the taskforce includes Cameron County and the following cities: Brownsville, San Benito, Harlingen, Santa Rosa, La Feria, Palm Valley, Weslaco, Donna, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Mission, Alton, Palmhurst and La Joya.

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