Watershed consortium to research, build relationships with communities

By Alec Jennings
University News Service
March 20, 2009

Recognizing the need for long-term, wide-ranging strategies to protect water resources, the Rivers Systems Institute (RSI) at Texas State University-San Marcos will be teaming up with universities and the federal government to form the Consortium for Watershed Excellence.

A reception will be held 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 24 at the Texas Rivers Center to introduce the new consortium. All Texas State faculty, staff and students working, studying or researching in the area of water or the environment are invited to attend.

Members will initially include the Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute at Oklahoma State University, the Arkansas Water Resources Center at the University of Arkansas, the Environmental Protection Agency and other regional universities yet to come. Eric Mendelman, coordinator of the Initiative for Watershed Excellence, said the consortium represents a comprehensive effort to improve water resources.

"Together they will work to restore and protect impaired or at-risk waters while developing the next generation of water resource professionals," Mendelman said. 

Their overall mission will include: watershed assessment; education and outreach; facilitation and planning; water quality monitoring; and technology development and deployment. Mendelman said a February 9, 2009 EPA grant of $72,599 is the first step toward achieving the consortium's broader goals to study pathogens in the Red River Basin – an area chosen because it reaches across each of the five states in EPA region 6 (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana). 

"We will study pathogen pollution, which comes from human and animal sources, and potentially threatens the health of people when they swim and recreate in creeks and streams," he said. "We're focusing on pathogens first because people can more easily relate to immediate health risks. What we want to ensure with our project, is that we assess and communicate the risks using science and education." 

A Transboundary Work Group that includes water agencies, scientists and researchers will help evaluate pathogen data and help design pathogen education programs for the public.

"The first thing you have to do before you can get people involved is for everyone to be on the same page and speaking the same language," Mendelman said. "The next steps will be to find ways of dealing with causes and possible solutions for problems, communicate with community leaders, decision makers and citizens through local workshops, and develop a plan to implement solutions.” 

Consortium partners will work in close collaboration to take this approach to other areas in EPA region 6 where pathogens or other pollutants are causing problems for water resources as well as potential health and economic risks.           

For more information, please contact the Rivers Systems Institute at (512) 245-5570.