Feb
9
2011

TWDB Offering Free Conservation Workshop (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

More Than a Drop Workshop, Feb. 23
The Texas Water Development Board, in partnership with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Brazos River Authority, is hosting a free water conservation workshop.  The workshop will give an overview of reporting requirements for water conservationConservation workshop logo, developing a water conservation plan and completing various reporting requirements.  The workshop will also touch on various components of water conservation planning, strategies for selecting and establishing conservation programs and guidance on appropriate tools and resources.
The conservation planning workshop is intended for those interested in receiving information, guidance and resources to assist in the development of water conservation plans and programs.  The workshop is free of charge and is open to water industry professionals involved in water conservation and resource planning.
The workshop will be held Feb. 23 from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Brazos River Authority in Waco, Texas.  Visit the TWDB’s website for more information, including an agenda and registration details.
Feb
9
2011

Toyota Funding 4-H Film on Water Conservation (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

SAN ANTONIO ­ The 4-H2O for the Alamo program in Bexar County is onee of the educational initiatives featured in a new film about water conservation in Texas being produced by National 4-H Council and funded by Toyota, according to project coordinators.

“The film will showcase what 4-H members throughout the state are doing to conserve water and to inspire other 4-H member and non-member youth to do the same,” said Tara Wheeler, national project manager-curriculum for National 4-H Council, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md.

Wheeler said the film will be completed within the next few months and will have a finished length of five to 10 minutes. She added that while the film’s content is targeted at the middle school-level, young people at higher and lower grade levels also will be able to benefit from seeing it.

“The film is highlighting activities related to the 4-H2O Community Project supported by Toyota and 4-H, and 4-H2O for the Alamo in Bexar County is an example of this important national educational initiative,” she said. “The film’s content will address the need for water conservation throughout Texas and will include interviews with people who have chosen careers relating to environmental stewardship, so kids can learn about jobs involving environmental responsibility.”

The film will end with a “call to action” for young viewers to make changes in their communities by addressing local water issues and concerns, she added. It will be posted on the National 4-H website, http://www.4-h.org, and also will be shown to 4-H members and other young people at schools and in community venues nationwide.

According to the National 4-H Council, 4-H2O Community Project initiatives nationwide have been made possible by a $2 million commitment from Toyota. The initiative’s goal is to involve youth in water quality and conservation while increasing interest in the sciences.
Continue Reading »

Dec
15
2010

Drought’s grip threatens state with arid 2011 (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Wildfires soar as La Niña effects keep rain at bay

By ERIC BERGER
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

Dec. 8, 2010

The great drought of 2011 may have started two months ago.

Since Tropical Storm Hermine drenched central Texas in September, the state has been very dry, with large swaths receiving less than 10 percent of normal rainfall levels. Locally, nearly all but the southeastern corner of Harris County has received less than 50 percent of normal rain.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, the two-month period of October and November was the state’s eighth driest on record, and second driest in 44 years. If Texas doesn’t receive at least 0.78 inches in December, it would be the driest October-December period since the 1950s.

The beginnings of drought conditions now — an updated U.S. Drought Monitor released this morning will show much of Harris County now in a moderate and worsening drought — trouble 

meteorologists because there’s little reason to expect relief during the next few months.

“Continuing dry weather is likely to persist at least into the spring,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.”

The big concern is that, absent a wet spring, a large part of the state could experience a severe drought in 2011.

“For now it’s impossible to predict summer rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But as things look right now, there will be very little subsurface moisture heading into late spring. These are hair-trigger conditions for a drought.”

More immediately there’s the threat of wildfires as the state dries out.

An active fire season

Partly in response to the looming drought, the Texas Forest Service convened a workshop this week in College Station to alert state and federal fire agencies about the threat, and to prepare.

“There are important indicators however that at least an active fire season is at hand,” said Todd Lindley, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Lubbock.

Rainfall late in the state’s growing season fed the growth of grasslands that are now drying out, which will provide fuel for any fires sparked.

Wildfires are common in Texas, especially in Lindley’s forecasting area, during these months as strong winter systems bring gusty wind conditions that can easily spread fires.

Forecasters expect a dry fall to continue this winter because of strong La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific — where sea surface temperatures are cooler than normal — which typically leads to drier and warmer winters.

The warmth matters too, when it comes to drought, as warmer daytime highs increase the rate of evaporation, further drying the soil.

For Houston a strong La Niña phase almost always yields a very dry winter. According to data compiled by forecaster Chuck Roeseler with the Houston/Galveston office of the National Weather Service, La Niña conditions this winter will be most similar to the winters of 1916-1917, 1917-1918, 1955-1956, 1975-1976 and 1999-2000.

During a typical October-to-March period in Houston, the city receives 22.4 inches of rain. On average, during those five La Niña winters, the city recorded just 10.5 inches of rain, or less than half of normal levels.

“Numbers very similar to this hold true for nearly all of central and south Texas,” said Victory Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service’s Southern Region Headquarters in Fort Worth. “As one moves northward into northern Texas, the signal for dryness is somewhat muted.”

In response to the drying conditions 80 Texas counties have already enacted burn bans, including Waller, Fort Bend and Chambers counties nearby.

Agricultural damage

Murphy said the agricultural impacts could also be acute if the drought persists. During the last major state drought in 2008 to 2009, farming losses were estimated to be $3.6 billion by Carl Anderson, of A&M’s Agriculture Extension Department.

“This impact will need to be monitored very closely by dry land farmers as well as pasture and rangeland producers starting in the springtime when planting begins,” Murphy said.

There’s no immediate threat to stream or river flows, however. Widespread, heavy rains helped Texas emerge from a drought late in the summer of 2009 and, through this past June have raised water reservoir levels into good shape.

However, absent spring rains or — be careful what you wish for — a few good, soaking tropical systems next summer, there could be impacts on water usage and pumping next April and May when homeowners seek to green their lawns, and farmers their fields.

eric.berger@chron.com

courtesy: Brown & Caldwell Water News, Dec. 15, 2010

Nov
24
2010

San Angelo: Twin Buttes water dispute near settlement (Posted By Mike Mecke)

By Kiah Collier
Published Monday, November 22, 2010

SAN ANGELO, Texas — The end of the city of San Angelo’s five-year-old battle to amend its Twin Buttes Water Rights permit is in sight, but the matter is not yet finished.

An administrative law judge in Austin has decided in the city’s favor on two pending applications that the city submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in early 2005, which were later challenged by more than 40 farmers, ranchers and other downstream water rights holders who have argued that the amendments would violate their rights to use the reservoir water.

The judge’s recommendations will go before the TCEQ commission sometime in the next three months. The challengers to the amendments, who filed jointly as the Concho Watershed Association, have filed a series of exceptions to the judge’s recommendation on one of the application amendments.

That amendment application requests “clarification” in the language in the Twin Buttes permit that deals with “what water belongs to the city or that the city could impound in the dam and what water that the city was obligated to pass to downstream water rights holders,” according to Jason Hill, the city’s special counsel who delivered what he called the “good news” to the San Angelo City Council last week.

The portion the application seeks to clarify is a paragraph in the permit that requires San Angelo to release all natural flow downstream on the Concho River, but also permits it to store flood and rainwater “for use in its water system, as well as for eastern Tom Green County farmers served by the Main Canal,” according to a 2008 Standard-Times article published when the association filed a petition opposing the amendments.

Hill and local water attorney Tom Massey, who has also worked for the city, have argued that the paragraph that requires the city to release water to downstream water-rights holders on a non-request basis is null because the paragraph does not exist in a 1979 adjudication certificate, the result of a court review of the water rights along the Concho.

“It contained some innocuous language that quite frankly was more relevant to the pre-adjudication era of water rights management in Texas and it had some language that it carried over into the certificate that really in today’s modern water rights management structure in Texas, didn’t have a place and created some consternation for the Water Utilities Department and how they operated the dam based on that language,” Hill told the council.

Massey said in 2008 that, because the paragraph doesn’t exist in the certificate, it means the water in Twin Buttes is the city’s property and that should be released downstream only on request something Massey said the city has done.

“Stored water is not subject to call,” Massey said. “It’s our water. We paid for the dam. … That’s pretty well-established law.”

Glenn Jarvis, the McAllen-based attorney representing the association, has argued that the paragraph’s absence from the certificate is an error because when the courts were creating adjudication certificates, they did not have the jurisdiction to revise water rights permits.

Although Hill and Massey assured the council that the city has a strong case that will likely trump the exceptions filed in response to the judge’s recommendation or any appeals made after the TCEQ makes its decision — Jarvis is also confident. Jarvis says the association’s argument is still that the missing paragraph is an error, but also that the judge’s decision did not take into account other language in the certificate,

“It has certain provisions in the water rights that protect other water right holders and that is what our argument is, is that the amendment takes away the protection in the water rights that gives protection to other water right holders that they will have water to use.”

Oct
27
2010

Travis County commissioners ban development that uses Trinity Aquifer water (Posted By Mike Mecke)

County will study ways to regulate groundwater use.

By Marty Toohey

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Updated: 12:31 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Published: 10:38 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

Travis County commissioners unanimously approved a one-year ban Tuesday on nearly all new development in western parts of the county that would rely on water from the Trinity Aquifer.

The county has received complaints of wells that draw from the Trinity running dry. County officials say the ban would give them time to study and enact stricter rules governing what can be built over Travis County’s portion of the Trinity, a massive aquifer that stretches from North Texas to west of San Antonio and is divided into many pockets, including one in western Travis and northern Hays County.

The ban is intended “to take a pause to have a dialogue with those landowners” who draw or might draw from the Trinity, Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said.

Some affected property owners were unhappy about the county’s decision. Ted Stewart , who owns land near Hamilton Pool Road, said the commissioners chose to infringe on the property rights of rural Travis County residents to appease “mostly downtown metrosexuals or people (already) living on beautiful, 5-acre subdivided properties in the Hill Country.”

The ban does not apply to developments that have already been approved, such as the West Cypress Hills subdivision, where about 100 of 1,500 planned homes have been built. The ban also does not apply to planned subdivisions with pending applications for county permits.

In addition, the ban includes some minor exceptions. For instance, it does not apply to developments with lots larger than 10 acres , as long as the developer does not build any roads.

The ban is necessary, county officials say, because of long-term population growth and water demand forecasts, and wells in the region that periodically run dry. “Most of the dry wells are associated with increased pumpage due to recent development,” independent hydrologist Raymond Slade Jr. wrote in a 2006 report for the Hays Trinity Groundwater District, which oversees pumping from the Trinity in adjacent Hays County.

Todd Reimers, whose family owns large tracts in western Travis County, said enacting such a district in the western part of the county — as opposed to a building ban — is the best way to address the water issues. There are now seven districts operating along the Trinity, and Slade said Travis should have one to ensure that Travis can claim its share of the water.

The state is laying groundwork for such a district, which must be approved by a majority of people who would live within its bounds.

Commissioner Karen Huber, who represents western Travis County, said she supports the idea but is skeptical that the district would effectively regulate water use without additional county rules.

The commissioners approved the ban 3-0; Ron Davis and Margaret Gómez were absent.

“It’s prudent to be proactive,” said John Dupnik , with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, which helps manage a neighboring portion of the Edwards Aquifer and contends that drought and increased development are probably contributing to dry Trinity wells.

The Trinity is one of the most highly used groundwater resources in Texas, according to the State Water Plan, last updated in 2006. Although its primary use is for municipalities, it is also used for irrigation, livestock and other domestic purposes.

In 2008, during the drought that parched much of Central Texas, Jacob’s Well, a prized spring fed by the Trinity Aquifer in northern Hays County, went dry. It was the first time it had gone dry since 2000 and only the second time since pioneers settled in the area.

Jacob’s Well is the primary source of water for Cypress Creek, which runs through Wimberley.

mtoohey@statesman.com; 445-3673

http://www.statesman.com:80/news/local/travis-county-commissioners-ban-development-that-uses-trinity-981635.html

Oct
15
2010

Who owns the groundwater beneath your land? (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Landowner groups host groundwater ownership forum in Lubbock

PRESS RELEASE FROM Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Texas landowner groups have joined forces in an effort to ensure that groundwater continues to be recognized as a vested, real private property right. The groups will host an educational forum Oct. 28, at the Merket Alumni Center from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. The forums are aimed to help the public understand current groundwater ownership issues.

The growing effort, currently supported by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA); the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA); the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB); the Texas Poultry Federation (TPF); the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA); the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association (TSGRA); the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA); the Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD); the South Texans’ Property Rights Association (STPRA); the Riverside and Landowners Protection Coalition; the Texas Forestry Association; and the Texas Land and Mineral Owners Association (TLMA), brings together more than 400,000 Texans who own more than 50 million acres of private property.

According to estimates by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), by 2060 Texas’ population will more than double, increasing its water demand by 27 percent. Because groundwater from Texas aquifers supply more than half the water for the state, it is critical that groundwater resources be managed to provide for current and future use.

Each forum will cover various groundwater topics including the current groundwater regulation under the Texas Water Code, legal issues surrounding groundwater, and why groundwater conservation is important not only to private property owners in Texas, but also to Texas communities.

Forums are free and open to the public. The Merket Alumni Center is located at 17th and University in Lubbock. For more information visit www.groundwaterownership.com.

Oct
2
2010

Water News Briefs (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Published in October 2010 Ranch & Rural Living Magazine

Paved Dallas-Fort Worth Prairie is Fertile Ground for Floodwaters

Sept. 9, 2010  By Randy Lee Loftis  Dallas Morning News

The tropical downpour in North Texas this week showed one effect of decades of urbanization: flash floods worsened by the wholesale paving of the prairie.
The remains of Tropical Storm Hermine left many neighborhoods awash Wednesday. And though few areas might escape flooding when 5 to 10 inches of rain falls in a day, planners say widespread development – the replacing of native grasslands and woods with roofs, roads and parking lots – has worsened the risk.
Water that once might have taken its time rambling along wide waterways and soaking into the soil now hurries toward the nearest overloaded drain or down a concrete-lined ditch.
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/091010dnmetflood.29bc6e9.html

D-FW Businesses, Governments Trying to Conserve Water

Sept. 12, 2010  By Bill Hanna  Fort Worth Star-Telegram

There’s no way of getting around it — you can’t make beer without water. But the MillerCoors Fort Worth Brewery in south Fort Worth, while consuming 887 million gallons in 2009, is using less water these days.
. . .
And for many years Dallas-Fort Worth has battled the perception that it uses an inordinate amount of water compared with other parts of the state. Some Oklahoma legislators involved in the Tarrant Regional Water District’s legal fight to obtain water from north of the Red River have also portrayed the region’s communities as “water hogs” and given that as a reason for opposing the sale of water to Texas.
http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/09/12/2462204/dfw-businesses-governments-trying.html

Rainwater Catchment System Put to Use at BHS

Sept. 9, 2009   Bandera County Courier

Bandera High School’s Construction Trades classes made history today by using the district’s first rainwater catchment system, built last school year through a grant made possible by the Bandera ISD Education Foundation, to water the new BHS Softball Field.
With just a few adjustments, the students under the supervision of teacher Brad Flink and BISD maintenance worker Jason Smith were spraying a 30-foot stream of water over the softball outfield.
http://www.bccourier.com/Archives/Community_detail.php?recordID=100909C8

El Paso Water Utilities Projects Underway

Sept. 8, 2010  By Kandolite Flores  KFOX El Paso

An El Paso Water Utilities project has closed the right lane of Zaragoza Road just south of Gateway East for about 200 feet. A leak was detected in a waterline, and crews must excavate and survey the line to pinpoint the location of the leak. This work is necessary to prevent disruption of water service to customers and further inconveniences for drivers. The lane is anticipated to reopen by Friday, September 17. We ask for the community’s patience during this project.
http://www.kfoxtv.com/news/24926588/detail.html

Securing a Balance for Region’s Future Water

Sept. 12, 2010  By Robert Rivard  My SA News

Imagine a worst-case scenario in the coming years: A federal judge advised by officials charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act decides when San Antonio residents can water their lawns and when farmers can irrigate their crops.
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/environment/water_work_laboring_to_secure_a_regions_future_balance_102712199.html

Water Symposium Presentations Slated for Fredericksburg, San Antonio, Kerrville

The 2010-2011 Texas Water Symposium Series will provide perspectives from policy makers, scientists, water resource experts and regional leaders. Join us as we explore together, the complexity and challenges in providing water for Texans in this century. Each session is free and open to the public. Nov. 11: Texas Tech University, Hill Country University Center Bldg, Fredericksburg; Jan 27: Witte Museum, San Antonio co-hosted and sponsored by the Witte Museum; March 31: Schreiner University, Callioux Campus Activity Center, Kerrville Texas.
http://www.schreiner.edu/news/2010/news10_sept13_texas_water0913.html

Texas Water Development Board

Providing Application for Financial Assistance

Texas Water Development Board is offering a new application for financial assistance for water and wastewater infrastructure projects.
http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/assistance/financial/fin_assistance/

Texas Irrigation Expo October 21-22, 2010

TexasIrrigationExpo.com

The Rio Grande Valley will be the site of a major, statewide exposition on agricultural irrigation to be held in Mercedes.
The two-day event will include presentations by expert speakers, tours of demonstration sites currently using on-farm water conservation tools and techniques, a scholarship contest for high school students, and exhibitors displaying the latest technology and equipment. The Harlingen Irrigation District is coordinating the event as part of the state’s Agricultural Water Conservation Demonstration Initiative, which is funded through a grant from the Texas Water Development Board. This event is free and open to the public.
http://www.texasirrigationexpo.org/

N.M. Official: Headwaters Deserve Special Protection

Sept. 15, 2010  By Susan Montoya Bryan  AP/Alamogorda Daily News

Nearly half of New Mexico’s surface water comes from federal forest lands, and some of those headwater streams, lakes and wetlands deserve special protections to ensure they continue providing clean water for the state, a top official with the New Mexico Environment Department said Tuesday. Marcy Leavitt, head of the department’s Water and Wastewater Division, was among the experts who testified before the Water Quality Control Commission at the start of a four-day hearing at the state capitol.
The commission is considering a petition by the department that aims to designate about 700 miles of rivers and streams, 29 lakes and more than 4,900 acres of wetlands in a dozen wilderness areas as so-called “outstanding national resource waters.” The designation would protect the waters by prohibiting any activities that would degrade water quality. Several of New Mexico’s rivers flow into Texas.
http://www.elpasotimes.com/newmexico/ci_16076925

Aug
12
2010

San Angelo: STATE OF THE CITY: Water’s role in future stressed (Posted By Mike Mecke)

San Angelo water news – Great to see this very nice little west-central Texas city seriously talking water issues again.  I lived near Angelo and shopped there for eight years and I think it is the best small city in Texas – I hope it does not outgrow that designation – bigger is not always better!

 This article below could not carry all the items discussed.   But, no mention that the Hickory aquifer’s water is radioactive and must be specially treated before use?  Isn’t that a pretty major issue?  That item has blocked potential sales of this groundwater to other areas in the past.

 Or, of starting an even more serious water conservation and Xeriscape landscaping program – which includes rainwater harvesting?  A rainbarrel program similar to Austin’s might kick start it, but I am betting that Angelo residents are much more water savvy than Austin’s and many grew up on harvested rainwater on surrounding farms and ranches.  San Angelo and the area are in a good location to use rainwater harvesting with large tanks - my former Extension program got a large rainwater tank installed at Baptist retirement homes center and they had wisely planned many more in order to reduce their outside water demands.   Rainwater can also be used to flush camodes and even treated fairly easily for drinking water.  Check it out in our magazine advertisers and web sites listed on line.  Contact the local AgriLife Extension office for assistance.

Also not discussed in the article was that the three older, shallow flood control lakes furnishing much of the City’s water should be dredged MUCH deeper and silt sold every time the lakes are down – pretty often?  Should’a/could’a been done years ago during very low lake level periods.   But, better now than never!   Deeper lakes have much less surface area to lose water from evaporation, they hold more water and the water often stays cooler and cleaner with less algae.  And, a side benefit is improved recreation and fishing for area residents. 

Without a firm long-term water supply no town can grow.  “Water is Life!”      Mike

STATE OF THE CITY: Water’s role in future stressed

By Kiah Collier
Updated Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SAN ANGELO, Texas — City leaders on Tuesday received an overwhelmingly positive response from San Angelo’s business community for their handling of the budget shortfall, continued execution of the Capital Improvement Plan and desire to drop the sunset of the half-cent sales tax.

The occasion was the 2010 State of the City presentation, titled “Preparing, Changing, and Improving our Community to Face the Challenges of Tomorrow.”……………………………………………………

Chamber of Commerce President Phil Neighbors, who has seen three state-of-city presentations during his tenure, said he thinks the city has done well addressing the challenges of having to downsize services in the face of a budget shortfall while continuing to move forward with the Capital Improvement Plan, which was implemented in 2007, and securing the city’s future viability with projects like the Hickory Aquifer pipeline — San Angelo’s first underground water supply, expected to be online by 2014…………………………………

“Sunset or not, we can do away with the half-cent sales tax (later),” he said.

In his sixth state-of-city address, Dominguez also emphasized the crucial nature of securing a long-term funding source for a long-term water supply, starting with the Hickory project, which remains largely unfunded.

“This underground water supply, I cannot stress how important it is to the future of this community,” he said…………………………………………………

Jun
10
2010

East Texas Farmers Battered by Dry Spring (Posted By Mike Mecke)

While many Texas ranches and farms enjoy a wet, green spring and other areas are presently flooding, the eastern part of the state suffers from drought.  Drought is always just around the next corner in Texas – something that most urban or city folks fail to recognize.  In some areas, both cities and smaller towns, leaders and developers constantly push for more growth, more thirsty lawns, more water slurping golf courses and never think beyond tomorrow!

Our state was fairly small in population when the terrible “Drought of Record”, running from the late 40′s thru 1957, occurred.  With our huge population and projected doubling by 2060, what would happen if we had another five to seven or eight year severe drought?

It would hit us more quickly and harder.  Just as the recent two year Central Texas drought did.  Keep this in your mind when your town or city starts yelling for more growth – will you have the water for them?  From where – at what environmental, community and economic costs?  Will area irrigators and farmers have to go out of business to provide that water?  Does your community want to trade vital agricultural businesses and families for new subdivisions?  Do you want to depend upon China or Mexico or other countries for our food?

Forecast looks gloomy for fruit, cattle growers because of dry conditions.

By Chad Thomas

TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH

Sunday, June 6, 2010

TYLER — Plumes of dust billowed out from under the wheels of Darren Rozell’s tractor as it rumbled across a stretch of thirsty dirt at his orchard.

Like many agricultural sites throughout East Texas, Rozell’s land just northwest of Tyler has gradually dried out during the past two months, and as much as 60 percent of his fruit crop — which includes peaches, blackberries and plums — could be lost this season because of a lack of moisture. Continue Reading »

May
10
2010

5/10/2010 High Plains Lake: Mercury mystery (Posted By Mike Mecke)

High level of element in Lake Alan Henry baffles scientists
By Elliott Blackburn | AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
Monday, April 26, 2010
Story last updated at 4/26/2010 – 12:11 am

High West Texas levels of a natural toxin have researchers scratching their heads.

John A. Bowersmith / Avalanche-Journal
Anglers try their luck at Lake Alan Henry in March. In February, health warnings were issued because of high concentrationsof mercury, an innocuous element which can turn toxic in water. Biologists and other researchers who study the chemical said they don’t know why mercury levels are so high.

Concentrations of mercury, an innocuous element that can turn toxic in water and prompted health warnings at a Lubbock fishing spot in February, have stumped biologists and other researchers who study the element. Mercury levels in fish do not affect drinking water quality.
Researchers who spoke with The Avalanche-Journal couldn’t tie the problem to any of the dozens of possible sources of the pollutant tainting fish at Lake Alan Henry.

“The truth is, we don’t know, and it’s a mystery as to why it would be

elevated in that region,” said Matthew Chumchal, an assistant professor of biology at Texas Christian University.

Most mercury floats through the atmosphere in an elemental, low-toxic form, belched into the air by coal-fired power plants, forest fires and even volcanic blasts. It can roam for years, and, in some forms, over thousands of kilometers before becoming mixed up with rain or settling into waterways.

The company the element keeps when it reaches lakes and rivers causes most of the trouble, Chumchal said.

Common, water-borne bacteria methylates mercury. Methylmercury does a better job of sticking to the tissue of fish, among other things, and poses the threats state health officials warned of in February.

Methylmercury levels found as early as 2005 in largemouth bass at Lake Alan Henry exceeded state health department levels. Further testing on fish captured in 2008 revealed mercury levels considered a danger to human health.

“As long as it’s straight mercury, it’s not a problem,” said Charlie Munger, a Canyon-based Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist. “When it’s methylated by bacteria and things, then it’s taken up into the food chain.”

State health officials warned in early February against eating more than two eight-ounce meals of fish from the lake in a month.

High levels of the pollutant can damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetuses, making pregnant women especially vulnerable to the pollutant, Chumchal said.

State testing did not find dangerous levels of any other carcinogens, pesticides or other hazardous materials.

The problems repeat mercury levels found at Lake Meredith. Researchers couldn’t put a finger on why West Texas would have such consistent problems, but had a few clues.

Coal-fired electric plants supply most of the mercury in the atmosphere. Southwestern Public Service Company stacks at Harrington and Tolk stations spew the element as a byproduct of the cheap energy source that accounts for more than half the electricity powering Panhandle homes.

But mercury can spend years in the atmosphere and travel the globe, so sitting so close to power plants doesn’t imply high mercury levels, researchers said. Asian plants launched more than half the man-made mercury floating around the globe, compared to the 3 percent of man-made emissions traced to the United States, based on studies published over the past 15 years.

Panhandle geology may encourage the bacteria turning the mercury into its more dangerous form, Munger said. More acidic lake water also tends to have more mercury problems. Or it could be a case of growing pains for Lake Alan Henry, Chumchal said; new lakes tend to have mercury problems.

“The younger the reservoir, the more methylmercury you see in fish,” Chumchal said. “The age of Alan Henry could, potentially, be a factor.”

Even if researchers had a smoking methyl gun, tracing it in the Panhandle could pose problems. There just wasn’t enough data in West Texas, Chumchal said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires permits for mercury releases into the air and water, but air-testing was difficult, spokesman Terry Clawson said in an e-mailed response to questions. New facilities must have monitoring equipment – older facilities, like Tolk and Harrington, estimate mercury based on the fuel they use. Most state testing was done just as it was at Alan Henry – on fish, far removed from its source.

Researchers have more than a decade of tracking in eastern and western United States provided by a series of voluntarily installed equipment monitored by the Mercury Deposition Network.

Their maps show a blank white sandbar between two brown ponds of data traveling up from West Texas into the Dakotas. The $11,000 monitoring stations don’t exist in West Texas; a Fort Worth site recently shut down, program coordinator David Gay said.

“Texas is a tough place to break into,” Gay said. “It’s a huge hole in our network.”

Anglers remained more interested in what they could snare from the water on the end of a line than what might line the muscles of their catch.

Fishing tournaments at the future water supply and current bass fishing gem Lake Alan Henry continued undeterred by warnings against eating fish caught from the reservoir out

Munger, the Canyon-based biologist, said mercury wouldn’t stunt the growth of record-breaking lunkers, a main concern for fisherman trying to set lake records.

Sport fisherman tend to catch and release their bass, anyway, to encourage larger fish and the lure of bigger lake records, said Stacy Miller, tournament director of the Hub City West Texas Anglers.

He worried a little for families who may eat fish from the lake, but didn’t eat much himself, he said.

“It does concern us, but like I said, we don’t eat a whole lot of them,” Miller said.

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