The Houston Chronicle yesterday reported on a coalition called the West Fork Watersheds Partnership (WFWP), tackling water quality issues on the West Fork of the San Jacinto and its tributaries. The article claims that the West Fork and one of its tributaries fail to meet water quality standards. It also cites the dangers of fecal material in the water.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), Galveston Bay Estuary Program, TCEQ, and EPA are leading the WFWP, which includes a wider group of organizations, businesses and residents concerned about water quality.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council Water Resources Information Map above indicates just how critical bacteria have become. It features water-quality data from the H-GAC’s Clean Rivers Program, which helps ensure safe, clean surface water for the region by providing high quality data. H-GAC works with seven partner agencies to collect and analyze data from over 450 monitoring locations throughout the region.
Bacteria levels are measured at all monitoring locations. In fresh water the indicator bacteria is E. coli. These bacteria originate in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals and can be harmful to humans. When either of these bacteria are present, it is likely that other disease causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses may also be present.
How does bacteria get into our waterways?
According to H-GAC, bacteria can enter surface waters through many pathways. Most water bodies have most, if not all, of the following bacteria sources.
- Malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants
- Sanitary sewer system overflows
- Failing Onsite Sewer Facilities (OSSFs) and septic systems
- Runoff from livestock
- Pet waste
- Wildlife and feral hogs
Each water body is unique in the combination of bacteria sources and the amount from each source that makes up the total bacteria present.
Why should we care about bacteria?
The water you drink from a tap has been treated to remove bacteria. However, anyone who ingests contaminated water, i.e., when swimming or during a flood, can become ill. People with compromised immune systems or individuals with open wounds or cuts that come into contact with contaminated water are especially vulnerable. A Kingwood resident who had a cut and was exposed to floodwater during Harvey died from flesh-eating bacteria.
Contaminated water can also cause diseases such as:
- hemolytic uremic syndrome
- typhoid fever
Turbidity a Complicating Factor
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that excessive turbidity, or cloudiness, in drinking water may also represent a health concern. “Turbidity can,” says the USGS, “provide food and shelter for pathogens. If not removed, turbidity can promote regrowth of pathogens in the distribution system, leading to waterborne disease outbreaks, which have caused significant cases of gastroenteritis throughout the United States and the world. Although turbidity is not a direct indicator of health risk, numerous studies show a strong relationship between removal of turbidity and removal of protozoa. The particles of turbidity provide “shelter” for microbes by reducing their exposure to attack by disinfectants. Microbial attachment to particulate material has been considered to aid in microbe survival. Fortunately, traditional water treatment processes have the ability to effectively remove turbidity when operated properly. (Source: EPA)”
Any increase in sedimentation beyond the baseline level of nature increases the difficulty and cost of water purification. USGS data shows a spike in turbidity after every major rain. The rain carries exposed sediment to the river. Some comes from urban environments; some comes from stream beds, agricultural land and construction sites; and some comes from sand mines.
USGS has set up a special website that lets you monitor water-quality data from dozens of gages in and around Lake Houston, many of them in real time. If you are ever concerned about water quality issues, this is a good place to start your investigation.
Posted by Bob Rehak on September 12, 2018
379 Days since Hurricane Harvey