Watershed program launches coordinated effort to curb stormwater runoff pollution

September 21, 2016

By Tiffany Evans

LAKE JACKSON, Texas — The Houston-based Texas Coastal Watershed Program (TCWP) is combining the efforts of three of its programs focusing on wetland restoration, green infrastructure and stormwater management to increase its outreach in protecting local water resources.

TCWP, a partnership of the Texas Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, will officially unveil its new Green Infrastructure For Texas (GIFT) program at a workshop about natural techniques for cleaning and conserving stormwater on Thursday, Sept. 29, in Lake Jackson.

The three programs that make up GIFT are long-standing components of TCWP. The Wetland Restoration Program focuses on the restoration of public lands and educating visitors about the importance of wetlands. TCWP’s Stormwater Wetland Program does the same for wetlands installed in stormwater detention basins to improve water quality and flood control, and increase recreational opportunities and habitat for wildlife. And its Stormwater Program uses landscape design, rain gardens and other demonstration projects in the Houston area to educate homeowners about green infrastructure techniques to clean lawn water runoff before it enters local water systems.

“We are bringing these three programs together to address current and emerging needs with a unified approach to protect the quality and quantity of our local water resources,” said Mary Carol Edwards, Stormwater Wetland Program Specialist. “This unified, holistic approach will expand the applied research to decision-makers, landowners and homeowners alike.”

In the next 40 to 50 years, Texas is expected to double its population and see extreme growth in coastal cities, an increase in water right conflicts, an additional 1,000 square miles of land lost to development, and more people living in low-lying areas subject to potentially stronger and more frequent storms and flooding. These factors will increase the already significant impacts of stormwater runoff on water quality in Texas’ bays and bayous.

GIFT is designed to help urban and suburban citizens of the upper Texas Gulf Coast to build resilient communities adaptable to economic, social, and environmental change; to more efficiently use their resources by minimizing losses due to misguided design, construction and planning practices; and to reduce misuse and abuse of natural resources.

“We had a couple of cross-collaborations between our programs in the past, depending on funding opportunities, which probably set the stage for GIFT. This idea to combine all three programs started last year,” Edwards said. “The more we brainstormed, the more we realized that even though the scales and techniques were different, there was a continuity of objectives through each of our programs. We felt this gave us a unique angle and concepts that needed to be shared widely.”

The first workshop offered under the new GIFT strategy, and the second in a series about stormwater management, will be held Sept. 29 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s new LEED-certified building at 299 West Highway 332 in Lake Jackson. “Managing Our Stormwater: From Gutter to Gator” will provide information on cleaning and conserving stormwater at the backyard, urban/suburban/industrial and regional scale. The coordinators of the three TCWP programs in GIFT — Edwards, Wetland Restoration Program Specialist  Marissa Sipocz, and Stormwater Program Specialist Charriss York — will lead the workshop, which will be repeated on March 4.

For more information about the workshop, please visit http://tcwp.tamu.edu/event/workshop-managing-our-stormwater-from-gutter-to-gator/all/.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.