Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Environmental Engineering Program Receives $1 Million Grant from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

KINGSVILLE - November 02, 2011

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

The Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE) in the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville has received a $1.1 million dollar grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help fund green development in the rapidly-growing Lower Rio Grande Valley.  

Part of the Clean Water Non-Point Source Pollution prevention program, the grant will fund Phase II of the ISEE’s “Evaluation of Innovative Low Impact Development (LID) Activities in Urban Storm Water Management in the Arroyo Colorado” project. The project is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Low Impact Development Implementation and Education program—an initiative started by ISEE and the Lower Rio Grande Storm Water Task Force. It aims to implement green best-management practices when it comes to controlling stormwater runoff. As the Lower Rio Grande Valley continues to grow at a rapid pace, initiating these types of environmentally conscientious practices will be key to ensuring proper conservation.

During Phase I of the Low Impact Development (LID) project—which was funded by a $1.5 million TCEQ grant awarded in 2010—the ISEE worked with the cities of Brownsville, La Feria, San Juan and the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco to advance safe, low-impact development—which emphasizes conservation and helps manage stormwater runoff. Other project partners have included the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, University of Texas-Brownsville and the Valley Nature Center.

Phase II will expand the initiative to including the cities of Harlingen, Weslaco, Alton and the Cameron County Drainage District. Other project partners include the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership, Harlingen Water Works Systems (public water utility) and the University of Texas at Brownsville. These partners are members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Taskforce. The taskforce serves as the vehicle through which ISEE 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 LID Phase II grant will fund five types of low-impact stormwater control projects that will use the area’s natural features and native vegetation to manage stormwater and ensure 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 stormwater 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.

• rain gardens: These BMP facilities utilize infiltration, adsorption and absorption strategies to treat stormwater runoff that infiltrates into the storage region (subsurface) of the BMP.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the College of Engineering to help municipalities in a rapidly expanding area of the state grow responsibly and maintain a good quality of life,” said Dr. Stephan Nix, dean of the Dotterweich College of Engineering. “The grant will also allow our students to gain experience in the fast-growing field of low impact development.” 

The grant will also fund a new research engineering associate to manage the LID projects. Augusto Sanchez Gonzalez, a 2008 graduate of the university’s environmental engineering master’s program, has been selected to serve as the new project research engineering associate. Prior to acquiring his current duties, he worked for the water division in Grupo DOMOS in Monterrey, Mexico where he performed as project and bidding manager focused on public entities in the Mexico's wastewater industry.

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.

Dr. Kim Jones, chair of the environmental engineering department at A&M-Kingsville, said the grant will not only help provide engineering students with opportunities to create LID developments and measure their efficiency, it will also serve as a means of testing out and promoting green development initiatives.

“This gives A&M-Kingsville the opportunity to provide a great service to the community where many of our students are from,” Jones said. “It gives our students great real-world experience working with the cities and entities that are participating in this program.”

A third LID project grant application for further expanding the LID program in the Valley, submitted in June 2011, has recently been sent forth for consideration to the EPA. Phase III would expand the project with the assistance of the cities of Harlingen, Alamo and La Joya, which is additional testimony to the unity of purpose and cooperative nature of the LRGV Stormwater Taskforce to address water quality improvement on a broad scale, noted Jones.                                         

About the Lower Rio Grande Valley Low Impact Development Program

The LRGV LID Implementation and Education program founded by ISEE and the LRGV Stormwater Task Force aims to implement “green” best management practices (BMPs) when it comes to controlling stormwater runoff. Formed in 2002, the LRGV Stormwater Task Force has brought together 15 cities, one county and one drainage district 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-Kingsville research engineering associate, the taskforce includes Cameron County, Cameron County Drainage District #1 and the following cities: Brownsville, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Palm Valley, Weslaco, Donna, San Juan, Alamo, Mission, Alton and La Joya.                   


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