Report on TCEQ Sponsored TMDL 5/15/03 Meeting
Sam Rayburn Reservoir – 5/19/03

Summary / Background  - The acronym TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load and is the generic name that water quality regulatory agencies use for programs that are intended  to result in remedy of  water quality problems in a water body.    The daily load  term is in reference to the quantity  or volume of  pollutants that can be dispersed into a  water body and still have the water body  meet its designated standards.  Typical standards are High Aquatic Life, safe for contact recreation sports (swimming & water skiing), etc.  A TMDL program is supposed to determine what the maximum pollutant loading can be and still have the water   body meet its designated  standards and also determine the principal sources of the pollutant loading so that appropriate reductions in pollutant loading can be can derived and enforced. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) conducted a public meeting in the Rayburn Country Club meeting hall on 5/15/03 to present material related to a TMDL program being executed because water quality problems on Sam Rayburn Reservoir have been determined to exist by an assessment process that is required by law.  That assessment determined that parts of Sam Rayburn are not meeting the Designated Use Standards.  The information presented at the TCEQ sponsored meeting is discussed herein.

Two people presented prepared material.  Ron Pierce from the Texas Commission on Environmental  Quality (TCEQ) and Sean Covington (Tetra-Tech).  Tetra-Tech is under contract to TCEQ to perform TMDL work.

 The material presented during this meeting was designed to avoid naming the entities responsible for the problems identified in past and current Impaired Waters listings (303d lists) that are prepared by TCEQ. 

 Non-Point Source Pollutants - Examples of the TCEQ state agencies predisposition to avoid identification of well established significant pollution sources that have political influence follow.

 There was a lot of presentation time and emphasis placed on the vast acreage of the water shed, the lengthy shore line, the vast number of septic systems, run-off from urban areas, etc. and how significant run-off from these sources might be to pollution of the lake.  However, these references to non-point source pollution did not include mention of the significant poultry farm operations in the northern parts of the water shed that produce enormous quantities of manure dispersed as fertilizer over agricultural land.  The Sam Rayburn tributaries are contaminated by coliform bacteria, arsenic, and other harmful elements that are documented in the Impaired Waters Lists prepared by TCEQ.  Poultry manure is a source of these pollutants and a source of nutrient deposition, as documented in state funded studies.  Even though there was mention of tributary pollutant assessments contributing to excessive nutrients, bacteria, and metal concentrations exceeding standards, etc., there was no mention of the potential harm of run-off from the extensive poultry manure applications.  The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (now TCEQ) published a Poultry Operations Study Report to the 76th Session of the Texas Legislature dated January 15, 1999.  The report states that “layer hen production produces approximately 145,000 tons of manure each year in Texas” and “broiler hen production produced approximately 420,000 tons of broiler litter in 1996”.  The primary use of this material is fertilization of pasture lands.   Instead of presenting this type of information TCEQ chose to present information emphasizing the number of septic systems in the counties surrounding the reservoir and water shed and they spent considerable time discussing the harm that could ensue from the run-off associated with these systems.   An objective and unbiased presentation would have included an estimate of the importance of septic systems and would include mention of the tons of chicken manure being deposited in the water shed that undoubtedly contribute to pollutant loading that includes arsenic, other harmful elements, and nutrient loading.  After listening to the presentation one might conclude that any problems existing in the reservoir are due to citizens not maintaining their septic systems.  That conclusion would be ludicrous.  

 It is certain that you could not attribute any identified problems to industrial point sources of pollution, or industrialized poultry farming non-point source pollution, based on the information provided during the presentation.  There are many  references and reports based on TCEQ and the Parks &Wildlife Departments analyses that identify significant pollution sources in the watershed yet they were not referenced in the presentation  and no specific sources were identified.

Point Source Pollutants – The presentation did specify the number of permitted point source discharges into Sam Rayburn.  They also presented the fact that there was only one point source that was considered a large source.  The graphic they presented showed one point source discharge to surface water greater than one million gallons per day.  The number is actually 16 to 18 million gallons per day on average – significantly greater than the one million gallon per day figure that was presented.  This one source often exceeds 20 million gallons for short periods.   They did not mention that the one large point source (the Lufkin Paper Mill) TCEQ permit limit is 20 million gallons per day and that quantity, is at least 20 times greater than that of any other point source surface water discharge to the reservoir.   No point source discharges to surface water were identified by name and actual quantities of discharges were not specified at any time during the presentation.  

 There was a complete absence of information specifying surface water discharge sources and makeup or constituents of discharges to the water shed.  The absence of this information from the presentation and lack of definition of permit limits and definition of quantities of discharges from the presentation makes it very clear that TCEQ is not committed to providing information to the citizens of the region that is important to the ecology, the recreational and associated economic value of the reservoir, and human health in the surrounding communities.  If the public is going to be informed on important water quality issues TCEQ has made it glaringly clear that we cannot depend upon the formal presentations and meetings conducted by TCEQ.  In fact the presentation material clearly establishes that they are providing misleading information to the public and would prefer that the ordinary citizens not be informed of issues that are important to their well being.      

 Assessments  - A portion of the TCEQ / Tetra-Tech TMDL presentation listed the Dissolved Oxygen (D.O.) criteria that TCEQ has  established to support the designated use standard (High Aquatic Life) as 4.0 for Sam Rayburn headwaters (Segment 0615) and they also identified the number of times their assessment indicated the standard  had not been met or violated.   The proper dissolved oxygen criteria for this segment is 5.0 - not 4.0.  The TCEQ representative substantiated this fact after a member of the audience brought it to their attention.  The TCEQ representative also verified that the number of violations of the dissolved oxygen criteria would be greater than the values that had been presented, after this issue was addressed by an audience member.  It can not be determined if  this was a simple mistake or a deliberate attempt to minimize a count of  the number of  times the D.O. Standard of 5.0 was violated in this segment (Segment 0615). However, it seems reasonable to assume that a presentation of this type was extensively reviewed and edited by management yet the errors were presented to the public.  The only unique characteristic of newly created water body segment 0615 is this.  It is immediately down stream of the confluence of Paper Mill Creek which is used to convey toxic paper mill discharges to the Angelina River at the headwaters of Sam Rayburn reservoir. 

The TCEQ decision to create the new water body segment (segment 0615) was motivated by a desire to achieve a reduced water quality standard for this part of Sam Rayburn Reservoir headwaters.  

 An audience member pointed out that concentrations of dissolved manganese exceed the public drinking water standards all over the lake and asked if they had considered this in their assessments.  The response was; that was not a part of TMDL actions - that is a separate department’s issue.   Mercury contamination of fish which has caused the Texas Department of Health (TDH) to issue advisories recommending limited consumption of Bass and Drum taken from Sam Rayburn and most other East Texas lakes was also identified as a separate issue that was not included in the TMDL assessment.   The Texas Department of Health (TDH) recommends that pregnant women do not consume any Bass and Drum taken from Sam Rayburn at all.   Yet, TMDL programs are claimed to be the appropriate means of achieving corrective action for water quality problems.   If you choose to pursue this issue you will be told that the manganese can be removed with proper water treatment.  No argument, but wouldn’t it make it make sense to limit discharges of manganese to the reservoir?   Should the public pay for cleanup to make the water safe for   human consumption or should the entity that is discharging elements that make it unfit for human consumption be required to clean it up?    The Lufkin paper mill began reporting to the EPA manganese releases to surface water of approximately 18 tons per year beginning in 1997. They also release well over 180,000 lbs/year, or 90 tons, of aluminum per year into the reservoir.   Of course these facts were not mentioned in the presentation even though acute concentrations of aluminum are one of the impairments that triggered the TMDL program and manganese concentrations exceed drinking water standards all over the lake as reported in a US Army Corps of Engineers document.    

Attendance / Audience Reaction - The meeting was well attended and the meeting facilitator did a good job and worked diligently at giving the meeting participants the opportunity to ask questions.  The hall was approximately three-fourths filled and it has a seating capacity of 200.   As the presentation was winding down there were a number of people who expressed their frustration because they realized that there would be no significant  corrective action taken by TCEQ at any  time in the near future – if ever.  We can only hope that the citizens will consider the actions of TCEQ and inform their  legislative representatives of their view of the proceedings and the performance of TCEQ.

In 1988 the Lufkin paper mill report to the EPA listed a release rate of 8,000 lbs. /year of toxic effluent to surface waters.   In 1997 the reported rate was 79,000lbs. /year, in 1998, 77,000 lbs. /year, and in 2000 the reported rate was just over 70,000 lbs. /year. Paper Mill Creek effluent was identified as a significant and persistent pollution problem by the state water quality regulatory agency that existed in 1985.  It still is!   

Walter West, P.E.