Funding requested for Groundwater-Surface Water, 
 Environmental Flow Projects.
 
Funding was recently requested for a project that will ultimately help protect environmental flows to the Colorado River, its tributaries and Matagorda Bay by providing a better modeling tool. The Colorado-Lavaca Basin and Bay Area Stakeholder Committee (CL BBASC) formally recommended five projects to be funded from monies made available for the second round of environmental flow studies during the last legislative session. Senate Bill 3 (SB3), which was passed by the 80th Legislature, established laws to develop environmental flow standards for Texas' major rivers. The funding for the projects describe below is from the SB3 process.
   
One of the projects (#4 below) will improve the groundwater-surface water
GMA-12
GMA-12
interaction capabilities of the model used to estimate and manage the availability of groundwater in the Central Texas segment of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer group that includes the Simsboro aquifer.   This is an important milestone in our eight year initiative to see that good science is available to inform policy decisions regarding the management of the interaction between the Colorado River and the listed aquifers.  Environmental Stewardship initiated and developed Study #4 after GMA-12 Groundwater Districts, Lower Colorado River Authority, and Brazos RiverAuthority agreed to fund the base-line improvements in the GAM.   
 
When the two year project is completed, it will be possible to bringing good science to our understanding and management of the critical interaction between the Colorado River in Bastrop and Fayette counties with the Carrizo-Wilcox, Sparta, and Yegua-Jackson aquifers. Improvements to the GMA-12 Groundwater Availability Model (GAM) will include adding layers to the model to simulate surface waters in the Colorado River alluvium and its tributaries. A major improvement will reduce the size of the "grid spacing" in the model from 1 square mile in size to square mile in size along the river and its tributaries.   With these improvements the GAM will be useful in evaluating regional and local impacts of groundwater pumping on the Colorado River and its tributaries, especially important during drought conditions when river base-flows are critical. Texas water law requires that the GMA-12 and groundwater districts consider such impacts before adopting desired future conditions or permitting groundwater withdrawals.
 
The Texas Water Development Board of Directors will consider approving the request at the December 14, 2015 meeting.   Depending on the level of funding provided (between $200,000 and $400,000), either 1-4, or all five of the projects will be approved. Once approved, contractors will be solicited by the TWDB staff (the following are not RFP solicitations). The projects will be completed by the end of 2017. The following are general descriptions of the five projects:
 
  1. Ecological Indicators and Habitat Characterization in the Colorado and Lavaca River Basins - The study will include ecological sampling/monitoring and analysis to help verify environmental flow standards for key areas in the Colorado and Lavaca river basins. Proposals should be designed to sample at least five sites which have environmental flow standards, with two located in the Colorado River Basin upstream of the Highland Lakes, two located in the Lavaca River Basin, and one located on a major tributary of the Colorado River downstream of the Highland Lakes. The study design should provide information that will help to inform a review of the adequacy of adopted environmental flow standards to support a sound ecological environment and to monitor ecological health. Funding for the project will not exceed $160,000.
  2. Evaluate Trends in Runoff/Rainfall Relationship in Upper Colorado River Basin - The study will undertake a desktop analysis of changes in the relationship between rainfall and stream flow at key locations in the Colorado River Basin upstream of the Highland Lakes. Proposals should be designed to survey entities (such as state agencies, universities, river authorities, groundwater conservation districts, and other large water suppliers in the area) regarding past or ongoing efforts to assess the relationship between rainfall and stream flow in the upper Colorado River basin. 11In addition to providing for the assessment of those efforts, proposals should include the development or selection of an appropriate desktop methodology for assessing and quantifying to the extent possible changes in the relationship between rainfall and runoff that avoids duplication with other efforts. Proposals should include applying that methodology to specific locations to quantify the trend and identify possible causes for any detected trends. Funding for the project will not exceed $20,000.
  3. Evaluate the variability of sediment and nutrient loading into Matagorda Bay - The U.S. Geological Survey or a qualified contractor will be sought to continue analysis of the concentration of sediment and nutrients in freshwater inflows to Matagorda Bay from the Colorado River. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been working, with funding support from TWDB, to develop predictive relationships of sediment and nutrient loadings from the Colorado River using surrogate models based on in situ field measurements. Additional funding is needed to continue moving toward the ultimate goal of obtaining a quantitative relationship that will allow for the continuous measurement of river discharge and sediment and nutrient loadings using an automated index velocity meter (an acoustic Doppler current profiler). Funding is requested to support the installation of an index velocity meter at a fixed location in the lower reaches of the river and to fund additional sediment and nutrient data collection in order to quantify the relationship between data recorded by the velocity meter and sediment and nutrient loadings to the bay. Funding of this project with the U.S. Geological Survey may allow additional federal matching funds to further extend the scope of work for this project. Funding for the project will not exceed ($70,000).
  4. Improve Simulation of Groundwater/Surface Water Interaction in the Groundwater Management Area-12 Groundwater Availability Model - The project will improve the capability of the groundwater availability model (GAM) for the central portion of the Carrizo-Wilcox, Queen City, and Sparta aquifers to simulate groundwater-surface water interaction along the Colorado River and the tributaries of the Colorado River within Groundwater Management Area 12. Funding for the project will not exceed $60,000. Proposals for this project should be designed to:
    1. Add one or more additional model layer to the GAM to represent a shallow groundwater flow system such that each cell uniquely represents a specific hydrostratigraphic unit and its associated aquifer properties;
    2. Reduce the grid cell spacing in the GAM from 0.5-miles to 0.25-miles for the grid cells representing the Colorado River and the tributaries of the Colorado River;
    3. Perform a literature search on hydrogeological studies for the Colorado alluvium and estimate transmissive and storage properties of the Colorado alluvium;
    4. Represent the Colorado alluvium as a separate model layer in the GAM; and,
    5. Develop a work plan for collecting, analyzing, and modeling water elevation data at paired groundwater wells and surface water gages at four locations on the Colorado River and tributaries.

5. Baseline Characterization of Marsh Habitats North of East Matagorda Bay - If adequate funding is approved, this study will undertake baseline biological and habitat characterization of marsh habitats located north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway adjacent to East Matagorda Bay. The marsh habitats of particular interest are the Little Boggy and the Big Boggy/Lake Austin marshes. Proposals should be designed to collect baseline data to characterize the marsh habitats, relative to salinity levels and freshwater inflow within the marsh. A recommendation to describe the relations. Funding for the project will not exceed $30,000.

 
Environmental Stewardship's executive director, Steve Box, serves on the Colorado-Lavaca BBASC as an alternate to Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environmental. ES was also instrumental in developing and finding funding for the groundwater simulation improvement project (project #4).   
 
Steve Box
Executive Director
Environmental Stewardship  
P.O. Box 1423
Bastrop, TX 78602
                                                   
                                                                            
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River and Bay Health Studies  

Protecting the Natural Resources of the Lost Pines Region and Texas Gulf Coast
First Round SB3 Funding Studies
Fresh Shrimp
Studies have been complete on  
Matagorda and Lavaca bays   
to determine how well they   
survived the drought.

A report on these studies will be provided shortly.   As a reminder, here is an earlier report on what the studies would cover. 

Sampling of oysters, salinity, and other indicators of bay health were done in August and November of 2014 and will provide new insight into how well Matagorda and Lavaca Bays are surviving in this drought.  Previous bay health studies did not include data taken during drought conditions, so these studies will provide important insights into whether freshwater inflows from the Colorado and Lavaca rivers have been adequate to maintain the health of these bays. 

Our Texas bays and estuaries depend on freshwater inflows from our rivers and streams, reaching far inland from the Gulf Coast, to be healthy and thriving ecosystems.  During drought the flow of freshwater to the bays becomes threatened due to low inflows to the rivers and high use of surface water by municipal, agriculture, landscape, industrial, energy and recreational interests. 

Under Texas SB3 Environmental Flow regulations, sustainable levels of
instream flows in the rivers and freshwater inflows to the bays have been established to protect these natural water resources, however there are no guarantees these flows will be maintained.  These critical "subsistence" and "threshold" flows have been set, based on the best science available, to help ensure that the rivers and bays stay healthy enough during drought to be able to rebound during wet periods.   
 
Preliminary data from these studies indicate that the salinity in the Matagorda and Lavaca bays has been high, around 32 ppt (parts per thousand), whereas the target is 27 ppt.  None-the-less, the "dermal" data, an indicator of oyster health, has been low; which is good.   Several rain events in the lower basin (Colorado River below the Highland Lakes) have helped bring the salinity of the bays down for short periods.  These "freshets" as they are called, help lower the salinity in the bays for short periods of time and control a "dermal disease" that can harm oyster health.  The health of oysters is used as a biological indicator of bay health, and oysters are an important commercial food resource.   PLEASE NOTE:  these are preliminary raw data that will be reviewed by the science team and reported to the committee next spring. 

Background:  The Colorado and Lavaca Basin and Bay Area Stakeholder Committee (CL BBASC) commissioned two studies last summer.  The study discussed above, awarded to ANCHOR QEA, LLC, will update the scientific studies previously done by adding new data taken during this drought.   The other, awarded to Aqua Strategies, Inc., is evaluating possible ways of getting freshwater inflows into East Matagorda Bay.  When the Colorado River was diverted back into Matagorda Bay (yes it was diverted away from the bay for many years), inflows to East Matagorda Bay were lost.  Also, the intercoastal waterway (ICW) cuts off rainwater on the coast that would go to the bay.   These studies were funded by money made available by the Texas Legislature. 

Note:  Steve Box is alternate to Andrew Sansom on the CL BBASC, served on the study selection committee, and participated in the recent review meeting. 

 
Spring rains benefit Matagorda Bay
Fresh ShrimpREPORT FROM THE FIELD

The rain we got down on the coast in April was a blessing.  It was too late for the oysters for this season but if the water temperature was high enough in the bays, it should have helped the oyster spawn.

It definitely helped the shrimp in the estuaries; we now have a crop that looks better than in maybe the last ten years.  Of course this still remains to be seen, the gulf season doesn't open until July 15, but still what's been caught in the bays has looked very encouraging.  A steady flow of fresh water year round is what the bays have needed for quite a while.

Buddy Treybig, Commercial Fisherman, Matagorda Texas

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