OUT IN THE YARD — Our Texas watershed must be protected

Published 12:07 am Thursday, March 5, 2020

Water is a much-desired resource in parts of Texas.

Southeast Texas is surrounded by water, whether in the form of lakes, rivers, bayous or frequent rain events. We complain about too much rain, too many floods, muddy rivers and lakes failing to realize that we are surrounded by a precious resource. The quantity and quality of our water must be protected.

According to the Texas Water Development Board, Texas has approximately 191,228 miles of streams and rivers, more than 8 million acres of inland and coastal wetlands and more than 3 million acres of reservoirs and lakes. Texas has only one natural lake, the Caddo Lake in East Texas. The other 6,700 lakes are man-made reservoirs.

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With all this water, there must be a watershed. A watershed is an area of land that water flows across or under on its way to a stream, lake, river or ocean. As water flows to its final destination, the watershed captures, stores and releases water safely, filtering sediments, pollutants and harmful materials and providing a healthy habitat for plants and animals.

How many of us in Southeast Texas have watched a beautiful Great Blue Heron standing near the water’s edge for their morning feast?

Unfortunately, there are toxins in our watershed that are affecting the water quality. The effects of pollutants such as bacteria from livestock and pet waste are introducing disease-bearing organisms. Phosphates and nitrates found in fertilizers, livestock and pet waste and septic systems promote algae blooms and aquatic growth. Sediment and hazardous materials from construction sites, driveways, ditches and road maintenance reduce plant growth, increase flooding and contaminate our drinking water.

Water quality is a growing concern, and it is up to each of us to regulate ourselves to keep contaminants out of the watershed. Each homeowner and farmer can manage the application of fertilizer to minimize run off. We must restrict our use of herbicides and pesticides as these chemicals are now found in our water supply.

According to NOAA, forty percent of the rivers in the U.S. are too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life. The Mississippi River, which drains nearly 40 percent of the continental U.S. including its central farm lands, carries about 65 million tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year. The resulting dead zone in the Gulf each year is about the size of the state of Massachusetts.

We are all stewards of the land and water. We are using it for a short period of time, so it is up to each of us to be mindful of what we are allowing to enter our watershed.

Without clean water we cannot survive, so it is important that we all act more responsible to protect and preserve this vital resource.

Reach Jefferson County Master Gardener, Brenda Beadle, at bbamaywald@gmail.com or call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at (409) 835-8461.