By Jackie Stone
Killeen Daily Herald
By the end of the year, the Lampasas River may be removed from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality list of "impaired" waterways, but officials, volunteers and landowners in the watershed have been working since last summer on a watershed protection plan to prevent future listing.
The latest meeting to discuss ways different communities effect the watershed was held Friday.
High bacteria levels found in some water samples taken in 1998 and 1999 put the river that winds from Hamilton County through Lampasas, Burnet and Bell counties on the TCEQ list.
In order to help the watershed address the problem, the Texas A&M University Agrilife Research branch used an federal grant to begin work on a Lampasas River Watershed Protection Plan. The final plan will be a holistic approach to address not just the bacteria levels, but all other environmental concerns from potential residential and agricultural waste runoff, to illegal dumping, said Lisa Prcin, the watershed project coordinator with Agrilife Research.
Although the TCEQ will reconsider the Lampasas River's listing in August because of strict changes to water testing requirements, Prcin said the plan is still important to the river's future.
"The watershed is rapidly changing, especially on the southern end, even though there may or may not be a bacteria issue at this point in the plan," she said.
Suggestions for ordinances and education will likely be a part of that plan, but Prcin stressed that it is a voluntary program. The responsibility ultimately lays with city and county governments to make changes.
That is one reason why watershed "stakeholders" are involved in the process.
On Friday, urban representatives such as Kristina Ramirez with Killeen's Drainage Utility and Lampasas' City Manager Michael Stoldt met with others from the Bell County Health Service, Harker Heights, forest service and public to discuss estimates the project has come up with for "worst case scenarios" of the impact of urban sewer and waste runoff on the watershed.
Friday's discussion lingered in depth on the need for the public to understand more about how both septic systems in rural areas and city waste lines and rules affect the environment.
"A large portion of any watershed plan must be the education outreach, because most people don't know how they impact the watershed when they throw something down the sink or flush," Prcin said.
Comments and questions from each of the roughly monthly meetings of work groups will be relayed on to the 19-member steering committee to help them come up with a final plan by spring 2011.
That plan can then be used to leverage grant money to effect changes, Prcin said.
Ramirez said regardless of why the program started, it now has a wide goal.
"It's the proactive approach," Ramirez said. "Improving the water quality is now the focus, not just getting delisted," she said.
Contact Jackie Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7474. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcoveeditor.