Study: Bacteria levels in Spring Creek watershed could double by 2045, led by dog, wildlife and on-site sewage waste

The Spring Creek Watershed Partnership is working to develop a protection plan addressing water quality issues along the waterway and its tributaries. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Spring Creek Watershed Partnership is working to develop a protection plan addressing water quality issues along the waterway and its tributaries. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Spring Creek Watershed Partnership is working to develop a protection plan addressing water quality issues along the waterway and its tributaries. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Spring Creek Watershed Partnership is moving forward on its evaluation of water quality issues throughout the watershed area following the group's second virtual meeting Oct. 8.

The partnership, which is made up of community stakeholders and is supported by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Houston-Galveston Area Council, was established earlier this year to review water quality concerns throughout the 440-square-mile watershed spread across four Greater Houston counties. The group's end goal is the creation and implementation of a watershed protection plan, expected to be completed by late 2021, that will guide regional efforts to improve currently-impaired water quality throughout the Spring Creek Watershed to sustained compliance with state standards.

During the partnership's Oct. 8 virtual session, H-GAC planner Rachel Windham shared the results of recent water quality assessments along the creek and its two attainment areas, or sub-watersheds, based on the central waste-related concern of bacteria impairment. The two areas include headwaters, located mainly west of Hwy. 249 and north of FM 2920, and downstream, covering the creek's run east from Hwy. 249 and Mill Creek through North Harris County and South Montgomery County to the West Fork San Jacinto River.

“On the headwaters side of the watershed, the actual magnitude of bacteria loading is lower compared to the bacteria loading that occurs on the eastern side of the watershed," Windham said. "What we recommend based on this information is considering the watershed to be one whole, but there are two main sections of the watershed that we need to be concerned about."

While the presence of E. coli bacteria—a sign of high levels of fecal waste and other possible pathogens that affect water quality—was charted throughout both attainment areas, Windham said the two areas require different levels of bacteria loading reduction based on how the bacteria enter waterways. Based on analysis of the past decade of state records at monitoring stations in the two attainment areas, a 49% reduction is needed in the western headwaters, and a 63% reduction is needed in the eastern downstream portion as a growing population brings new potential bacteria loading throughout the region.


“It’s important to look to the future when we’re considering bacteria loads in this system because we want to be sure that we're not just answering the question of ‘How do we improve water quality today?’ but also, 'How do we account for how this land area’s going to change over time?'" Windham said. "'How do we respond to these changes in ways that we’re still going to reduce bacteria impacts even in the face of expanded development and things of that nature?'”

Windham said that the main culprit of bacterial loading throughout the watershed is currently dog waste, which accounted for nearly two thirds of the estimated daily load as of 2018. Other identified contributors are livestock, such as cattle and horses; wildlife; and human waste stemming from sewage facilities or sewer overflows—one of the more significant, while less common, human-caused impacts.

“These can be very significant events that really contribute to bacteria loading in the system, and they’re extremely harmful, potentially, to human health, as these events represent a large volume of pollutants," Windham said.

Based on 2018 metrics, total daily bacterial loading is expected to more than double within the next 25 years, led by a more than 20% increase from dogs alone as development and population growth in the region continues.

Windham said the partnership will use those metrics to solidify its goals for load reduction in order to develop its potential long-term fixes for the area as planning continues over the coming year. The partnership will next meet in December.

“Once we have these reduction targets and loading values set in stone more or less for this group, then we can have a more focused trajectory for identifying water quality improvement solutions for this watershed. Once we get those solutions together, we can put it all down in writing in the watershed protection plan and move forward with implementation," she said.

More information on the watershed and planning process may be found on the partnership's website.
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


MOST RECENT

Magnolia's First Baptist Church will host its annual pumpkin patch, featuring food and other activities, such as hay rides, "punkin' chunkin'" and photo opportunities. (Courtesy Magnolia's First Baptist Church)
Fall fun: 8 pumpkin patches to visit in North Houston

From photo opportunities to hayrides, here are a few places to put on your list this fall.

(Courtesy NewQuest Properties)
Shogun Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar opens in Spring and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Over 146,00 county residents had cast ballots as of Oct. 22. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
See where turnout stands at Montgomery County's polling places after 9 days of early voting

From Willis to The Woodlands, thousands of county residents have turned out to vote each day since early voting began Oct. 13.

The Woodlands Township board of directors heard the results of a study on several township fire stations at its Oct. 22 meeting. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
Report: Woodlands' Fire Station No. 5 due for major overhaul or new site; department needs could run $13M-$14M

Foundation issues at Fire Station No. 5 mean that the facility could need extensive renovation or that a new building may need to be constructed at a new site.

(Courtesy NewQuest Properties)
Shogun Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar holds soft opening in Spring

The Japanese restaurant's soft opening was held Oct. 13

An election official directs a car to a spot at the Humble Civic Center's drive-thru voting location. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Supreme Court rules Harris County drive-thru, curbside voting can continue

More than 98,000 ballots cast at drive-thru polling sites across Harris County will be counted in the Nov. 3 election.

A Curative van will offer free COVID-19 testing in The Woodlands Township starting Oct. 23. (Courtesy The Woodlands Township)
Free COVID-19 testing to be available in The Woodlands Township's town hall parking lot

Walk-up or appointment-based testing is available for free starting Oct. 23.

Up to 40,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas members could be impacted if a contract agreement cannot be reached. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
CHI St. Luke's Hospital faces potential contract termination with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas at multiple Houston, Southeast Texas locations

If an agreement cannot be reached, up to 40,000 Houstonians could find their local hospital is out of network for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

Conroe ISD has been open for in-person and remote instruction since mid-August. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Total positive COVID-19 reports among Conroe ISD students, staff passes 400

As of Oct. 22, the district had recorded 181 positive COVID-19 reports among students and 225 among staff this year.

Oct. 23 is the last day Texas voters can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot. (Courtesy Pexels)
Tackling Texas' vote-by-mail system: Applying, delivering, tracking your ballot

Oct. 23 is the last day Texas voters can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot.

Town Center Trolley
Town Center Trolley, providing free rides on 4.1-mile route, now under The Woodlands Township ownership

The service route includes The Woodlands Mall, Market Street and Hughes Landing.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at Juergen's Hall Community Center in Cy-Fair. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County’s early-voting turnout up 23% over same time frame in 2016 general election

The five busiest polling locations in Harris County have averaged more than 1,700 in-person voters daily thus far during early voting.