Environmental Health

A growing community must carefully consider the effects of development on water quality, forest health, and local watersheds.

As communities begin a rapid growth cycle, the need to consider the health of their local environment becomes increasingly critical. The costs to rehabilitate wetlands and watersheds, to replace the urban forest, and to consider water quality issues are significantly greater than protecting these critical natural resources during development.

With the Texas population exploding, increased demands have already been placed on clean water resources. Compounding this problem is the associated development and increase in impervious cover in areas where forest once existed, leading to declines in water quality. These declines can be mitigated through careful watershed planning and conservation design, a method in which land is developed in a manner that protects the natural environment features. Other solutions include establishing forests around drinking water sources and riparian areas, restoring wetlands to their original condition, and developing ecosystem service markets and incentives for private landowners to conserve their working forest landscapes. According to the Texas Wildlife Action Plan, restoring just 1 percent of a watershed to appropriately-located wetlands can reduce runoff of nitrates and herbicides by up to 50 percent.

Texas weather is highly variable, both seasonally and geographically, with average annual precipitation ranging from less than eight inches in El Paso to more than 48 inches in Beaumont. Rain events can be quite dramatic, such as the event on July 25-26, 1979 in Alvin, TX, when a U.S.-record 43 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period. In 2007, during a historic wet summer, the town of Marble Falls received as much as 18 inches of rain in just three hours.

Most rain events are more moderate, but any time rain falls on impervious surfaces of our cities, it picks up debris, chemicals, sediment, and other pollutants and delivers them to either a city stormwater system or directly to a stream, lake, or river - often a source of public drinking water. The impacts of this urban non-point source pollution can be significant and removing it from drinking water is both mandatory and costly.


Author: cnd and rnr

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