Evaluating Groundwater/Surface-Water Inflow and Nutrient Transport to Texas Coastal Embayments

2014-2016 - $217,189

Dr. Dorina Murgulet
Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences
Texas A&M University
Corpus Christi

Kristine Uhlman, R.G.
Water Resources Program Specialist
Texas A&M Water Conservation and Technology Center
9350 S. Presa
San Antonio, TX 78223

Paul Montagna, Ph.D.
Endowed Chair for Ecosystems Studies and Modeling
Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences
Texas A&M University
Corpus Christi


The goal of this proposal is to build a foundation for clarifying the groundwater/surface-water contribution/fluxes of nutrients to water and ecosystem health degradation in Texas coastal embayments. If both groundwater and surface-water are shown to play an important role in delivering nutrients to coastal waters than, the impact of nitrate source input will be quantified and hydrologic patterns linking multiple sources to transport by surface and groundwater to coastal waters will be related. This project proposes a series of attainable objectives that will improve understanding of groundwater contributions to water quality and habitat degradation in relevant embayments of the South Texas coast: 1) map groundwater discharge and groundwater-surface water interaction zones, 2) quantify the spatial-temporal distribution of groundwater contaminant (nutrients, organic matter) transport and discharge, 3) evaluate nitrogen sources (i.e. anthropogenic vs. natural; agricultural vs. alternative), 4) evaluate the role of groundwater nutrients in system-wide nutrient budgets (i.e., inputs-outputs), and 5) evaluate hypoxia and phytoplankton (red & brown tide) trends in relation to groundwater flow and nutrient discharge. Given rapidly expanding human populations and land use change in south Texas coastal regions, it is likely that nutrient and organic matter loading from both point and non-point sources play a role in water quality degradation. However, there is limited information available regarding the effects associated with groundwater inflow and nutrient transport to Texas coastal embayments. Advanced environmental observing and analytical technologies will be employed to develop a comprehensive framework of groundwater/surface-water dynamics over annual cycles and to quantify contaminants within, and discharge from, storm water and groundwater to South Texas embayments. The resulting data products will be used for the development of decision support products and educational materials that will better equip resource managers and other end users to analyze, detect, and identify potential threats to freshwater resources (e.g., groundwater) and the health of environmentally sensitive ecosystems such as those of Corpus Christi Bay and Upper Laguna Madre Systems.