Surface water quality in Texas is governed both by Section 303 of the Federal Clean Water Act and Chapter 26, Subchapter D, of the Texas Water Code. Under those statutes, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), sometimes under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), creates rules and standards to monitor and protect surface water quality in Texas. These “Texas Surface Water Quality Standards” are important for cities, especially those with wastewater treatment plants because those plants affect the levels of certain biological and chemical substances that the city may discharge into surface waters. Over the past two years, the TCEQ has held several meetings regarding proposed changes to the surface water quality standards and accompanying implementation procedures (IPs) in Texas. These proposed changes include the following:

  • The existing contact use categories for surface water bodies. Currently, surface waters are designated by their potential use as either primary contact recreation (high likelihood of recreational use/water must be suitable for ingestion) or non-contact recreation (low likelihood of ingestion/water is unsuitable for recreational use). The proposed standards would create new categories in between these existing levels: “secondary contact recreation 1” and “secondary contact recreation 2.” These new categories will allow for certain waters that do not have a high likelihood of recreational use or ingestion to have slightly modified water quality standards for certain pollutants.
  • Bacteria measurements and limits. These proposed changes would govern the way in which standards-attainment is calculated and would create an exemption in certain cases where water flow is high during collection.
  • Current standards and procedures for nutrient testing. This may include changes to how chlorophyll a is used in nutrient standards attainment testing.
  • Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) testing and procedures. The proposed standards include stricter requirements for sublethal testing (where organisms survive but fail to reproduce at a specific toxicity level) and subsequent limits. Most of these changes will be in the IPs.

The anticipated publication date for the new proposed standards and IPs in the Texas Register is January 29, 2010. However, the proposed standards and IPs may be viewed now on TCEQ’s Web site at (standards) and (IPs). The comment period will run from January 19 through March 17, with a public hearing at the TCEQ offices in Austin on March 11, 2010. The rule project manager at the agency is Debbie Miller, who may be reached at (512) 239-1703.

The proposed changes can affect a wastewater discharger’s permit requirements leading to significant expenses to ensure compliance. The League has monitored and participated in the process for over two years. If you have questions about surface water quality standards or how to become involved in the process, please contact Lauren Crawford at the TML Legal Department at (512) 231-7400.

TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose.
No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the
Texas Municipal League.

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