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Texas State receives $500,000 federal grant to study contamination along Texas beaches

Congressman Greg Casar gave a $500,000 check to the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment for water quality research.
Contributed Photo

Texas State receives $500,000 federal grant to study contamination along Texas beaches

Pictured is TXST President Kelly Damphousse and Congressman Greg Casar.
Contributed Photos

Texas State receives $500,000 federal grant to study contamination along Texas beaches

Damphousse addresses the crowd.

Texas State receives $500,000 federal grant to study contamination along Texas beaches

Sunday, June 23, 2024

To put it bluntly, it appears Texas beaches have a problem with poop, and they’ve asked Texas State University to help with trying to figure out how to fix it before warming ocean waters make the matter worse.

A $500,000 federal grant will help The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment’s Texas Coast Project, which will aid the protection of Texas water by studying how climate change affects fecal bacterial contamination along Texas beaches.

“Texans love our beaches,” Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said. “Many of us have fond memories of going down to the coast with our families and splashing around the waves and cooling off, relaxing or just enjoying the peace and quiet of nature. But too often, water pollution ruins our enjoyment of the beach, and it can even make us sick. Fecal contamination from sources, sources such as urban runoff, sewage overflows and factory farms can contain pathogens that threaten the health of swimmers or that force beaches to be closed to protect public health.”

Metzger said that research showed, in 2022, 55 of the Texas beaches tested, representing 91% of those tested, were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day due to fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safety thresholds. Some beaches were impacted more frequently. He said Cole Park Beach in Corpus Christi had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on 54% of days tested in 2022.

“The coast does face significant water quality challenges due to pollution, wastewater discharge, rapid development, as well as sea level rise leading to fecal bacterial contamination,” Robert Mace, executive director of the Meadows Center, said. “Climate change exacerbates these issues, impacting water temperatures, pH, water composition, organic matter, increasing the risk from contamination.”

U.S. Representative Greg Casar was in San Marcos on Tuesday to celebrate the new funding his office helped procure.

“In the summer heat, Texans rely on our beaches and rivers to relax and cool off. If we don’t want our beaches closed by pollution, then we need to use science and public policy to counter worsening contamination,” Casar said. “The climate crisis and contamination are polluting our water and putting Texans’ health at risk. Today’s investment will fund critical research at Texas State University to protect our water and our shores for decades to come.”

Texas State University President Kelly Damphousse said that the research fits in both with current work ongoing for water quality as well as the university’s ideals. He also highlighted Texas State’s recently unveiled marketing campaign surrounding the university’s connection to water calling it “River State.”

“Protecting Texas water is a TXST research priority,” Damphousse said. “We are grateful for Congressman Casar's dedication to bring this federal investment to TXST. These dollars will support our work in addressing a public health issue and in protecting the resiliency of our coast and waterways for generations of Texans to enjoy.”

Mace explained what the project will entail in more detail.

“The goal of this project is to develop an environmental forensics approach to understand and predict fecal bacterial contamination for coastal management,” Mace said. “This approach includes analyzing water quality parameters, incorporating bacteria measurements and using optical brighteners, something that we've been doing a lot of research on here. The data will be analyzed using standard and emerging techniques, including artificial intelligence, and the work will be published openly, as well as the tools for folks to use. Study areas will target Texas bays and estuaries with historically high bacteria levels, such as recreational beaches in Harris, Matagorda and Nueces counties. Investment in community science, basically using our citizens to collect data, can be a very cost effective way and educational way of getting information. The community science will educate coastal communities about the water pollution and provide an early warning system for bacterial pollution events. We both will serve as a model for other coastal communities with similar water quality concerns. This project's success is expected to expand efforts further integrating community scientists and environmental management along the Texas coast.”

This federal funding was made possible through the Community Project Funding process for the Fiscal Year 2024 federal spending bills.

“We should look forward to the day where we don't have to worry about getting sick while going swimming, when we don't have to look on a website to see whether there's poop in the water,” Metzger said. “We could just know that we could just jump in the waves and have a good time and not worry about our kids getting sick, and so I think this grant and this research is an important part of achieving that vision.”

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666