Too much of anything can quickly become a problem, and that concept is not lost on residents who care about water quality in the region.

Concerned citizens and government representatives gathered Jan. 30 at the Alvin Public Library on for the Chocolate Bay Water Quality Public Meeting. The Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality called the meeting to discuss a worrying level of bacteria in the Chocolate Bay Watershed.

“We called the meeting to discuss … Chocolate Bayou, Mustang Bayou and Halls Bayou,” said H-GAC Senior Planner Steven Johnston. “Currently those bayous are impaired for recreation due to fecal matter.”

The watershed under consideration is part of the San Jacinto-Brazos Coastal Basin, or Basin 11, project area. It includes areas of Brazoria, Fort Bend and Galveston Counties. The meeting was aimed at getting officials and residents from these areas to work together on a solution. Johnston said 23 citizens and government representatives showed up.

“It was well-attended and had lots of good questions,” he said. “We had a sign-up sheet to serve on a coordination committee, and a lot of people signed up.”

Helping out can start at home. Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M Ryan Gerlich gave a special presentation about sewage facilities and the maintenance they need to keep the watershed area safe and clean.

“We have a grant through the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality to pump out and inspect septic systems in that watershed as well as provide education and outreach,” he said. “Our goal is … to provide people with an understanding of how the systems operate and yes, they do need maintenance to make sure it operates properly and will continue to operate.”

Some of his job is public outreach like his presentation at the meeting, talking to people about the everyday ways they can prevent problems in their sewage system and thus prevent contamination of the water table. He and his colleagues also check the operational status of sewage systems in an area that extends roughly from the coast to Highway 35.

“There’s quite a few systems in that area. We’re showing maybe 800 systems in that area of the watershed alone, Chocolate Bayou,” he said.

He’s seen a repetitive problem in systems along the coast. Often, he said, coastal builds were originally fishing cabins with 250-gallon septic tanks, designed to handle a few people spending their weekend at the beach. Now, many of those have become full-time residences or vacation properties that see more use than their undersized systems can handle. Clay soil and a high water table exacerbate the problem. Gerlich stressed that he’s looking to help people with problems like this, not get them in trouble.

“I work for an educational entity so we’re there to help, to let people know what’s wrong and how they can fix. We’re not a regulatory entity, I’m not the septic police or anything,” he said. “If people want to ask me a question or participate, they can contact me.”

Those in need of sewage advice can call Gerlich in his College Station office at 979- 458-4185 or email rgerlich@tamu.edu.

Johnston said the H-GAC’s goal is coordination between everyone involved, prevention of common watershed contaminants and a comprehensive plan for improving water quality. Harris County recently implemented a similar plan for addressing sewage facility failures and reducing bacteria in its watershed. He thinks its success is proof Brazoria County can do the same.

“With a little bit of work and coming together to build this plan, we can see improvement,” he said.

Concerned citizens are welcome to join the planning and implementation committee. To join, contact Johnston at (832) 681-2579 or at Steven.Johnston@h-gac.com.

Mary Newport is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0149.

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