JOHN GRAVES SCENIC RIVERWAY: LEGISLATION, TEAMWORK HELP TO PRESERVE SCENIC BEAUTY
A little more than a decade ago, a portion of the Brazos River once prized for its scenic beauty came under threat. The rising popularity of stone facades on homes and businesses and construction, in general, had led to an upsurge in rock, sand and gravel mining operations in the upper portion of the Brazos River basin. As these operations expanded, stormwater permit requirements and best management practices were ignored, resulting in slugs of muddied water moving downstream and taking with it the habitat that made the Brazos River a beautiful, welcoming home for fish and wildlife.
Concerned local citizens brought the situation to the attention of the state, and in 2005 the John Graves Scenic Riverway was created to protect and maintain this scenic section of the Brazos River.
Stretching from Possum Kingdom Lake to within a few miles of Lake Granbury, the John Graves Scenic Riverway was named for the author whose celebrated book, “Goodbye to a River” focused on his love of the Brazos and reflection on possible changes in the late 1950s.
With the passage of Senate Bill 1354, authored by Senator Craig Estes during the 79th Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature not only honored the author who made the Brazos famous with his tribute to the river, it created a collaborative effort between several state agencies that would ensure water quality. For more than 12 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Brazos River Authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have preserved the area’s allure through tightened permitting requirements, continued monitoring and water quality testing.
Individuals and environmental groups such as the Brazos River Coalition and Friends of the Brazos were instrumental in bringing concerns to state agencies and lawmakers. They were outspoken in their support for protection of the area of the John Graves Scenic Riverway.
Keeping the quarries from degrading the river in this segment of the Brazos was the purpose of the legislation. Monitoring activities include having representatives of the BRA, TPWD and TCEQ to inspect the river via helicopter flyover and by airboat. Additionally, the BRA samples water quality in this stretch at two sites monthly and another four sites biannually.
“It’s a gorgeous stretch of river,” said Tiffany Morgan, environmental and compliance manager for the BRA, adding that some of the quarries operating in the area have been operating in the best manner possible all along, while others were not.
The permitting component of the John Graves Scenic Riverway legislation also created a pilot program that brought greater regulatory oversight to the rock, sand and gravel mining operators in this area. To continue operating, the facilities must apply for either a general permit or individual permit based on the size and type of operation. The permit program also allowed for “enhanced enforcement authority and penalties” as well as “cost recovery if the state is required to take action to correct problems resulting from improper operation of quarries,” according to a TCEQ report to the legislature in 2012.
Among the requirements established by the TCEQ:
- Quarries located in a designated water quality protection area more than one mile from a water body must obtain a general permit.
- Quarries within one mile of a water body or within the 100-year floodplain of a water body must obtain an individual permit.
- New quarry operations or the expansion of existing operations located between 200 feet and 1,500 feet of a water body are prohibited, or else they must satisfy several requirements related to protecting the environment.
- Any permit issued is required to meet effluent limits set by the TCEQ and provide financial assurances and a plan for restoration if an unauthorized discharge is made.
“Before the legislative action, there were some quarries that were observed dumping spoils in the river,” Morgan said. “With the passing of the bill in 2005, several of the larger operations that were not in compliance closed. There were smaller operations that with permitting and increased education, began to comply, and other quarries that were doing as well as they could all along.”
The focus was on wastewater and stormwater discharges from quarries and required extensive inspections and samples to be taken from the riverway.
“Overall, the intent of the bill has brought about positive results. It closed up a hole in the regulations and resulted in positive changes,” Morgan said.
In addition to collaborating with the BRA, the TCEQ also worked with the TPWD to identify new mines that are not permitted, both at surface level and from the air.
More information on the monitoring efforts along the riverway is available at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/comm_exec/pubs/sfr/087_08.pdf .