Water quality problems persist in the Bosque and Leon River Watersheds, and dairy industry operations are the apparent sources of those problems, according to a report released today by the Sierra Club’s Texas Water Sentinels Project. The report urges state water pollution control officials to increase monitoring and enforcement activities in these watersheds to address these problems effectively.
Water Quality Report on the Bosque and Leon River Watersheds, (online at http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/press/waterqualityreport.asp) documents the results of water sampling conducted by the Sierra Club to assess the impacts on water quality from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – in this case industrial dairies – in the two watersheds. The rivers feed Lake Waco and Lake Belton, which supply drinking water for over 400,000 people in the region. These important reservoirs have been affected by massive amounts of animal waste runoff from upstream dairies.
Texas Water Sentinels Project Coordinator Justin Taylor sampled multiple sites in the upper reaches of the two watersheds in 2002 and 2003. He also trained volunteer monitors to collect and analyze water quality samples.
“We are concerned about the quality of the water entering our drinking water supply,” said Mae Lopez. She and her husband Mitch are among the Sierra Club volunteer monitors who sampled sites near the mouth of the Leon River, which feeds Lake Belton.
The results of the sampling indicate that the Bosque and Leon River watersheds continue to experience elevated bacteria and nutrient levels as a result of an estimated 1.8 million tons of manure generated annually by dairy CAFOs – equivalent to the amount of sewage produced by a city the size of Houston each day, but without the benefit of wastewater treatment. This dairy cow manure is applied to surrounding land that has already been saturated with excess nutrients and bacteria. When it rains the dairy CAFO waste runs off into tributaries of the rivers and moves downstream.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has undertaken efforts to address water pollution in these watersheds. These efforts include a composting program for dairy wastes, educational outreach to dairy operators, and the installation of four real-time monitoring stations.
Last year TCEQ adopted a new CAFO “general permit” for dairies in the Leon River watershed and new regulations for dairies in both areas, but the Sierra Club and others criticized these measures as inadequate to address the problems. The effects of these actions are yet to be determined. Moreover, the continued approval of new and expanded CAFO operations in these watersheds poses the threat of further degradation of water quality in the Bosque and Leon River watersheds and in Lake Waco and Lake Belton, says the Sierra Club.
“Without increased water quality monitoring and adequate inspection and enforcement practices, it is unlikely that all of the efforts undertaken to clean up the Bosque and Leon River watersheds will succeed,” concludes the report issued by the Sierra Club’s Texas Water Sentinels Project.
The Texas Water Sentinels Project is part of the national Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels Campaign to educate and engage the public to protect and restore our nation’s waters. The Texas Project is conducted by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club under a grant from the national campaign.
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