Protecting Water Supplies At The Local Level

Feb 28, 2017

“God just gave us so much water. We can't make it, it's just there. But we’re making more people.” Such as it was plainly stated by Mike Bira at the latest Texas Water Symposium, held on February 23, 2017 on the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos. The panel discussion focused on watershed protection programs at a city and community level.

Bira, an environmental scientist with the EPA, laid out the issues facing our waterways nationwide, stating “there are about 3.6 million river miles in the country. There are about 42 million surface acres of lakes. Nationwide we monitor 40% [of these water sources]. The ones that are assessed, about 40-45% of the streams and lakes are impaired.” Bira noted that pharmaceuticals are becoming an increasingly present pollutant in streams and lakes. Tylenol, birth control medication… it all shows up in trace amounts.

“More than half of the waterways are on their way to being impaired,” echoed Meredith Miller, from the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. “It’s important to have a [future] plan that’s based on science. And it’s important to know what the latest research is telling you. The things that we did to protect our streams 30 years ago are not the same as today,” Miller said, noting “there is a critical role for academics to play” in helping to create plans for future conservation and protection.

Chris Herrington, from Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, addressed the idea of doing the greatest good with limited resources, praising SAWS and San Antonio’s recent efforts. “To San Antonio’s credit, their program is mixing both source water protection, as well as some parks & recreation funding. That’s dual benefit.”

Herrington continued: “Think about the crisis of affordability… we’ve got limited resources, cities are there on the front line, but we’re also having to provide police, fire, EMS, libraries. We’ve got limited resources, so it becomes critical that we are channeling those limited resources in the most effective way possible. And of the key ways to do it is not to say, ‘hey, let’s protect this little baby salamander that you’ll never ever see no matter how many times you go swimming in Barton Springs.’ Let’s think about what we can do that’s good for water quality, good for protecting the quality of our drinking water supplies, good for protecting the quantity of our drinking water supplies so that we can accommodate all the people that are moving to Texas… How can we think about these things that are good for water quality, good for watersheds, and good for humans? Thinking about multiple benefits is critical.”

Learn more about the ways local governments and communities in Texas are planning for the future in the audio below.

Moderator: Dr. Andrew Sansom – Executive Director and Professor of Practice, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment Panelists:

  • Mike Bira – Texas Nonpoint Source Program Manager, US-EPA Region 6
  • Chris Herrington – Water Resource Evaluation Section Manager, City of Austin Watershed Protection Department
  • Brian Koch – Regional Watershed Coordinator, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board
  • Meredith Miller – Watershed Services Program Coordinator, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
  • Kerry Niemann – Section Manager, Water Quality Planning Division, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Dianne Wassenich – Program Director, San Marcos River Foundation

The Texas Water Symposium is a joint production of Schreiner University, Texas Tech University, Texas Public Radio and the Hill Country Alliance. 

The below video was also shared at the event.