On Wednesday, June 28, the Montgomery County Central Library in Conroe hosted a day-long series of the West Fork Watershed Partnership’s project workshops. Urban sources, human wastewater, agriculture, wildlife and invasives were the main discourses that were on the agenda.
“It is our responsibility to protect our springs, rivers and watersheds,” said Justin Bower, project manager and senior environmental planner for the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC). “We started this watershed protection plan over a year ago as a solution-driven attempt to combat the bacteria conditions existing in our area watersheds.”
The purpose for these smaller source workgroups at H-GAC’s workshops is to try and convene some topic-specific, distinct groups to outline the main issues to be brought before the stakeholders.
“Stakeholders have been invaluable in building a deeper understanding of sources of pollution in the watershed,” said Bower. “The modeling results we keep reviewing at our meetings and workshops are part of our effort to help local communities make informed decisions about how to address water quality challenges.”
“At H-GAC we’ve done all the data, but now it’s time to get input and real solutions and a way forward with what will and won’t work for the communities after all input from the stakeholders. Our solutions have to be feasible,” he said. “We prefer to bring all the agencies and residents from the communities together so it cross-promotes programs and can simultaneously benefit all involved. That way everyone’s interests and goals are also taken into consideration.”
In addition to local concerned residents, agencies that verbally participated in each of the related workshops were San Jacinto River Authority, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Montgomery County, Texas Environmental Quality, Bayou Land Conservancy (a nonprofit organization), Texas A&M Forest Service, and Galveston Bay Estuary program, to name a few.
“I am excited that we are on track with this project. We have moved on from the data-heavy stage to the more solution- driven phase of the project. It’s a good thing that we have a few prior projects under our belt,” said Bower. “What we did was learn from our success to figure out what modules would work. There are very simple models and then the complicated ones. So, we learned where to use our discretion to really streamline data and the amount actually required for each project and to engage the stakeholders.”
Bower said a crucial point that came up during the meetings was that stakeholders requested to take yet another look at the potential solutions that addressed erosion and sediment in the water.
Bower said that while they had originally intended to look at that separately, stakeholders pointed out, quite correctly, that excess sediment in the water can exacerbate bacteria issues, because it provides a place for bacteria to glob on to and decreases the impacts of sunlight.
“That sunlight is crucial for all our watersheds because they are responsible for killing off bacteria, so we will plan to discuss that along with the other recommendations at the next meeting,” explained Bower.
More information about the partnerships and the watershed protection plan can be found at westforkwpp.com.
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