The Lake Granbury community, Brazos River Authority (Authority) and other organizations have taken a major step in tackling a long-term pollution problem at the popular Central Texas reservoir.

After about six years of work, the Authority and others are set to begin carrying out recommendations made in the Lake Granbury Watershed Protection Plan (LGWPP) to address E. coli bacteria issues in coves around the lake.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Acton (TCEQ) reached out to the Authority to develop the LGWPP. The plan was intended to find the E. coli problem’s cause and to develop a program to reduce the bacteria. The LGWPP was successfully completed and approved by TCEQ in August 2010 and by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May 2011. A proposal for continued funding to implement management measures identified in the WPP was submitted to the TCEQ in May 2010.

The EPA and TCEQ notified the Authority in December that the WPP implementation project was selected for funding. The grant package totals $531,185 and represents essential funding to assist in realizing implementation plans. The funding is provided through a matching grant with 60 percent of funding provided by TCEQ and 40 percent provided by the Authority and Texas A&M AgriLife through in-kind services. Grant funding became available on September 1, 2011.

The Authority is a member of the Lake Granbury Watershed Protection Stakeholder Group, an organization of more than 70 participants that includes area residents, local and state government officials, utility providers as well as representatives from businesses, agriculture and homeowner associations. The group began meeting in early 2006 to brainstorm ways to reduce E. coli levels at the lake.

The E coli bacteria is normally found in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded animals and can contaminate food, soil and water bodies. Contact with elevated levels of E. coli may cause potentially serious gastrointestinal illnesses.

For several years, water quality tests in several of the man-made coves around the lake have found elevated levels of the bacteria that exceed state standards.

Much of this property is located in unincorporated areas of Hood County that do not have access to a municipal sewage system. Over time, about 9,000 septic tanks have been installed close to the lake; some located in areas where the soil is not suitable for a septic system or on property not large enough for an adequate absorption field. Compounding this problem, the man-made coves were constructed as shallow, dead-end canals limiting circulation with the lake water.

The grant will fund hiring of a watershed coordinator to work with local governments and others to carry out the WPP’s goals. One focus will be working with local residents and officials to help them move away from septic systems in favor of regional wastewater treatment. Other goals include public education on the issue and working with local health officials to help them maintain compliance with related health codes. The Authority will act as the project’s administrator and will also contribute to the effort by gathering and testing lake water samples.

“For several years local stakeholders have worked diligently to complete the LGWPP which, in fact, is only the second WPP in the state to be approved by the EPA,” said Jeff Sammon, Upper Basin Regional Environmental Planner. “Completion of the plan was a huge accomplishment for our stakeholders and a great benefit to the citizens of Hood County and all who enjoy the recreational opportunities that Lake Granbury provides. We are now moving into an essential phase to implement management measures identified in the LGWPP. The Authority and local stakeholders will continue to work closely together for successful implementation of measures to alleviate concerns for elevated bacteria for years to come.”

One local stakeholder, Acton Municipal Utility District (AMUD), has begun implementing plans included in the WPP to begin eliminating lakeside septic systems in their jurisdiction. AMUD applied for and was awarded state grant funding to begin installing sewage lines to service a local subdivision. With second phase funding in hand, AMUD is currently extending lines farther into the subdivision and connecting local homeowners to a municipal sewage system.

The matching grant is expected to last for three years; however, the timeline to complete the project will be much longer. The watershed coordinator will be tasked with identifying additional grant funds to see this most important project through to completion.