Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership/Texas Water Resources Institute

Rio Grande Valley/College Station

A Community Committed to Restoring the Arroyo Colorado

For almost a decade, hundreds of people representing communities, businesses, and public interest groups have worked together as members of the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership to improve the failing health of the Arroyo Colorado. This waterway is a draining channel of the Rio Grande River that flows 90 miles from Mission, Texas, to the lower Laguna Madre in the Rio Grande Valley to meet coastal waters. As the Laguna Madre’s primary source of fresh water—as well as a habitat to fish and wildlife, a course for barges, and a recreational venue for fishing and boating—the Arroyo Colorado contributes vitally to the Valley’s ecosystem and economy.

After the TCEQ reported concerns in 2004 that significant strategies were needed to restore water quality in the Arroyo Colorado, the Arroyo Colorado Watershed Partnership formed and then developed a watershed protection plan to improve environmental conditions. In effect in 2006, it outlined top priorities including the removal of nutrients from treated wastewater; construction of regional wetland systems to capture damaging nutrients from multiple sources; habitat restoration; wastewater infrastructure improvements; implementation of rural and urban best management practices; outreach and education for adults and youth; and water quality monitoring to check progress.

Since 2007, the Texas Water Resources Institute has coordinated the Arroyo Colorado program, working closely with the Watershed Partnership, the TCEQ, and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

Among the projects making a difference, three cities have constructed wetlands that receive treated effluent from their wastewater treatment plants, reducing bacteria, nutrients, and biochemical oxygen demand loading entering the Arroyo. In addition, more than 20 colonias are now connected to central wastewater systems and cooperating farmers use agricultural practices that reduce the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate entering the Arroyo.

Public education reaches more than 30,000 adults and students. New storm drain markers and watershed boundary signs alert people that dumping trash into storm drains and streams can taint the Arroyo’s water quality. Television public service announcements educate farmers and urban residents on local water quality issues while a number of programs train agriculture producers, farmers, and turf producers in taking a whole-farm approach and using best management practices for nutrients, pesticides, irrigation, and soil testing.

As the Partnership continues to work to improve water quality as well as critical wetland and habitat, the future once again looks bright for the Arroyo Colorado.