The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research hosted a community forum Thursday night to discuss its ongoing assessment of water quality and watershed planning for Nolan Creek and South Nolan Creek.
The study was initiated in an effort to remove elevated bacteria levels from a waterway segment. Twenty-nine miles of Nolan Creek were originally listed in 1996 as having elevated bacteria levels in certain segments of the creek, according to Nikki Jackson, the institute’s project director.
Two segments within the 29-mile stretch — a portion of South Nolan Creek from the confluence with North Nolan Creek and Nolan Creek upstream to Liberty Ditch — were assessed in 2010 and found to be impaired, mostly in Killeen.
Anne McFarland, a Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research representative, said the purpose of the project is to “tease out” what is going on in the watershed.
“Bacteria is complicated, there’s not going to be an easy answer. That’s why we are working with this project,” she said.
“Bacteria is monitored because we are looking at the recreational use of the water.”
McFarland said while someone wouldn’t want to ingest the water, it is OK for some recreational use, like fishing off the bank.
“What that bacteria indicates is not that the water is necessarily unsafe for recreational use, but that it depends on the type of recreational use. If you’re going snorkeling, you may want to re-think your plans.”
McFarland said high bacteria levels are mostly a risk indicator for gastrointestinal issues if the water is ingested.
“We would like to have the bacteria levels even lower so there is less risk,” she said.
Another goal of the ongoing study is to determine where the sources of the bacteria are.
“Part of the project is that we are doing a geographical inventory, that means trying to find out the different land-uses and put that on a map,” McFarland said. “That also means finding the different points where discharges are.”
The study also addresses nutrient levels in the watershed, she said.
About 15 people attended the forum.
Jackson said as more data is collected, it will be shared with stakeholders, landowners, residents, industries and municipalities at future meetings.