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.

On June 30, after a lengthy revisions process, the TCEQ adopted revisions to Texas’ surface water quality standards and the accompanying implementation procedures (IPs). These changes include the following:

  • The existing contact use categories for surface water bodies were changed. Before the revisions, surface waters were 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 revised standards 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. The E.coli standard is the exception to these changes; the commission chose not to adopt the category changes for that standard, leaving the primary and non-contact recreation uses in place for the E.coli standard only.
  • Bacteria measurements and limits. These changes govern how standards attainment is calculated and create an exemption in certain cases where water flow is high during collection.
  • Current standards and procedures for nutrient testing. This includes changes to how chlorophyll a is used in nutrient standards attainment testing.
  • Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) testing and procedures. The revised 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 are in the IPs.

The latest information on the adopted revisions is available on the TCEQ’s Web site. The rule language is available here as a PDF, and the IP language is available here.

The rules will be published in the July 16 issue of the Texas Register and will be available online at the Texas Secretary of State’s Web site.

If you have basic questions about the surface water quality standard revisions, please contact Lauren Crawford in 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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