Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Drinking Water & Human Health In Texas

The access to clean, healthy drinking water is essential for life. All living things require water for survival.

kidglass.jpgWater comprises about 70% of the human body. Every system in the body requires water to function correctly. Water aids in digestion, body temperature regulation, transport of essential nutrients, and body waste disposal. Water is one resource that we can not live without. On average our body must replace 2 to 3 quarts of water per day. Some of this water comes from eating, but the vast majority of water for the body is replaced by drinking.

Drinking water in Texas comes from two main sources, surface and ground water. In general, surface water is most plentiful in the eastern half of Texas. To the west, ground water is the major source and in several areas the only source of water. In 1997, 39% of the 15.391 million acre-feet of water used in Texas was supplied by surface water while the remaining 61% came from ground water resources. Projections indicate that these percentages will change by 2050 when 69% of Texas’ water supply will come from surface water and only 31% will be supplied by ground water.

Demand on water resources will also change during the next 50 years. Projections indicate that Texas’ current population of just over 20 million will double to over 40 million. This population growth along with droughts in 1996 and 1998 has prompted Texas to evaluate its available water resources and the demands on these resources. Under Senate Bill 1, Texas’ 16 regional planning groups were charged with 1) determining existing water supplies and population trends and 2) designing a plan to meet demand in 2050. This effort resulted in the first locally-led state water plan (22MB) based on the needs of individual regions. The implementation of these plans to meet the demands of thirsty big cities, while ensuring enough water for rural areas and agriculture will be one of the major drinking water issues for Texas.

Quantity of drinking water is not the only issue facing Texas. The protection of the quality of the available drinking water is also a major issue in Texas. The 2004 Draft 303(d) list of impaired or threatened water bodies for Texas lists several public water supply bodies with water quality problems. These include contaminants such as pesticides including atrazine and alachlor from crop field and urban runoff, nitrates and phosphorus from waste water treatment outfalls and animal feeding operations, petroleum products from underground storage tanks, and mercury from manufacturing. The quality of ground water also is threatened by similar contaminants and activities. Detections of nitrates and atrazine in ground water, as well as other contaminants, have been documented by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Salinity from natural sources and related to oil field production is another major contaminant of Texas ground water and reduces the supply of ground water available for drinking water use.

Conditions in Your Watershed

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Public Drinking Water Program has primary responsibility for the public water system aspects of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in Texas. The TCEQ also administers the Source Water Assessment and Protection Program. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains online information on public water systems and violations in Texas.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) provides information on 126,000 of the approximate 1,000,000 water wells drilled in Texas in this century. The web service features reported water well information for those wells registered with the TWDB. The TWDB also has produced the "Brackish Groundwater Manual for Texas Regional Water Planning Groups.”

TCEQ is charged with establishing water quality standards for Texas. TCEQ also is responsible for certifying laboratories for drinking water testing .

Resources and Programs

The Texas A&M University System provides research, education and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences, such as farmers, homeowners and youth.

Texas A&M University has established programs designed to provide information on drinking water and human health. Below are some key links to resources available to assist you.

Extension Outreach

The Texas Cooperative Extension develops and delivers programs designed to provide educational outreach into all counties of the state. Outreach education enables the research developed at colleges and universities and from other sources throughout the world to be interpreted and delivered to the end user, which is often a home or business owner or agricultural producer. Some of the major Extension education programs addressing drinking water and human health are:

TEX*A*Syst addresses a wide range of potential contaminants and provides remedies in a comprehensive, easy to understand way. TEX*A*Syst incorporates current regulations and the latest technologies into an applied decision-making format. This program provides residents the means to assess how their home site activities are affecting their environmental risks. More importantly, TEX*A*Syst helps residents take decisive actions to preserve the quality of their drinking water, prevent water pollution, and protect health.

In response to community requests gathered through the Texas Community Futures Forum, Texas Cooperative Extension also tailors water education programs to local needs through county extension offices and regional extension and research centers. For example, a comprehensive educational campaign in District 10, Water 2000 Plus, helps residents better understand and manage water resources in urban and rural environments.

The Texas Master Gardener program conducted by Texas Cooperative Extension provides information on determining appropriate amounts of pesticides and fertilizers to use on lawns and gardens so that productivity is enhanced while runoff of pesticides and fertilizers is diminished. A similar program designed for kids, known as Junior Master Gardener program, also is available. This project is designed for use by school teachers, home schoolers, 4-H and other youth clubs, and individual young people. Texas Cooperative Extension also conducts the Texas Master Naturalist Program with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Program enrollees must frequently study and address water quantity and quality issues to accomplish their goals for habitat improvement.

At 4-H Water Camp, youth learn about water conservation, economic benefits of reduced water use, technologies for improving efficiencies, proper irrigation management, and methods of reducing non-point source pollution. Participants acquire skills in evaluating water quality/conservation problems and the ability to develop solutions to problems.

The 4-H Investigating Water curriculum enrichment is a teacher’s or club leader’s guide with a series of 12 learning activities related to water quality and water quantity. Examples of such learning activities are located on the Water and Me website.

The Water for Texans program is a water quality protection and water quantity program of the Extension Rangeland Ecology and Management unit. Water for Texans is designed to educate ranchers and small acreage landowners in water quality protection and water conservation techniques associated with rangeland management.

Texas Watch is a network of trained volunteers and supportive partners working together to gather information about the water resources of Texas and to ensure the information is available to all Texans. Volunteers are trained to collect quality-assured information that can be used to make environmentally sound decisions. Established in 1991, Texas Watch is administered through a cooperative partnership between Texas State University, TCEQ and EPA. Currently, over 400 Texas Watch volunteers collect water quality data on lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, bays, bayous, and estuaries in Texas.

Scientific Research

Scientific research is the basis for development of new technologies to ensure high quality drinking water. Researchers at Land Grant Universities work to develop these new technologies and evaluate their benefits. The Texas Agricultural Research Database has information about research on drinking water in Texas. The database allows you to browse or search, and researchers can submit their information online. The Texas Water Resources Institute also provides links to water-related research funded through the Institute. Some examples of major research efforts concerning drinking water and human health in Texas include:

Watershed Projects

Research investigating Best Management Practices for pollution prevention include studies on agricultural filter strips, riparian buffers and on-site wastewater treatment in sub-watersheds.

Bacterial source tracking to identify nonpoint human and animal sources of fecal pollution impacting Lake Waco and Lake Belton and to facilitate proactive development of water quality protection strategies is being conducted by the Texas A&M El Paso Research and Extension Center. Other research studies at the El Paso Research and Extension Center include Pathogens in Rio Grande River Water and Molecular Detection of Infectious Viruses in Water.

College and University Education

Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in drinking water and human health are available within several departments at Texas A&M University. Graduate and undergraduate programs in key departments include:

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