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UTRGV Civil Engineering to Establish Watershed Protection Plan

Tarped fences like this one, around a construction site on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus, are mandatory and are designed to contain construction debris so it doesn’t make its way into the drainage system. UTRGV Civil Engineering faculty have received a $200,000 grant from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality to develop a Watershed Protection Plan, which will include regulations like the tarped fences, to reduce pollution in the Laguna Madre.Photo: Silver Salas/UTRGV

by J. Edward Moreno

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV civil engineering faculty have received a $200,000 grant from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality to develop a Watershed Protection Plan aimed at reducing pollution in the Laguna Madre.

The money will be used over the next three years to assess water quality and establish the protection initiative with local stakeholders. Once the plan is established, the projects will be executed over the next few decades, as they acquire funding.

“Working with local municipalities, we will work to develop green infrastructure that addresses the Valley’s unique needs,” said Dr. Andrew Ernest, a UTRGV professor, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and principal investigator for the project.

The Coastal Cities Task Force and Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Task Force facilitated the grant by helping UTRGV acquire third-party funding from local municipalities, which provided an additional $133,000 in funding.

The U.S. Legislature in 1972 passed the Clean Water Act in an effort to counter water pollution across the country. Chapter 319 of the Clean Water Act addresses nonpoint source pollution – such as run off from urban areas – and allocates funds for programs, like the Watershed Protection Plan, to alleviate pollution.

Ernest said this is the first Watershed Protection Plan in the Rio Grande Valley to be executed by a local entity; an existing Watershed Protection Plan currently addresses the Arroyo Colorado and is being carried out by an agency outside of the region.

“It’s emblematic of UTRGV’s role in the Valley,” Ernest said. “This means something to us. We all live and send our kids to schools here. So when we go out and work with stakeholders, it inspires us to make sure we are doing a good job.”

The Laguna Madre is one of six hypersaline lagoons in the world and is home to numerous endangered and threatened species. It also is the most productive bay fishery in Texas. However, recent testing shows it is deficient in dissolved oxygen and bacteria.

“Our job is to identify and figure out ways that the sources responsible for those numbers can fix their practices to not emit as much pollution,” said Javier Guerrero, E.I.T., director of Water Studies, UTRGV Civil Engineering department and co-principal investigator for the project.

Cameron County Commissioner for Precinct 3 and project stakeholder David A. Garza said it is vital for Cameron County to protect its watershed because it is one of the area’s biggest economic engines.

“We have a thriving industry in the port of Brownsville, and at South Padre Island, which is a great place for recreation,” Garza said. “All of those places are directly affected by all of the outflows.”

Planning for the Watershed Protection Plan will continue for the next three years. Once the plan is complete, the projects will be executed over the next 10-20 years, as funding is acquired.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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