Texas Asks Public Help to Clear Bacteria from Oyster Waters

AUSTIN, Texas, May 29, 2008 (ENS) - Concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria in six Houston-Galveston area bays have risen to the point that some areas are closed to the harvesting of shellfish for direct marketing, according to the Texas agency in charge of environment.

"Microorganisms from human and animal waste may contaminate oysters and other shellfish, making them unsafe to eat, especially since some shellfish are eaten raw," the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said Wednesday.

The commission now is seeking public comment on a draft plan to establish and implement Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, for the polluted waters.

A TMDL is like a budget for pollutants. It estimates the amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive in a single day and still support its designated uses.

The load is then allocated among the sources of pollution within the watershed, and measures to reduce pollutant loads are developed as necessary.

The commission explains that as required by section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, six TMDLs were developed for the Upper Texas Coast due to elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

To eliminate the bacteria along the Upper Texas Coast in Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston and Harris counties, the commission is developing total maximum daily load standards so that oysters may be harvested from the affected bays.

The use of coastal waters for harvesting shellfish, called the "oyster waters use" in the state's standards for surface water quality, is the most commonly impaired use among Texas bay and gulf waters.

The areas that need TMDLs are in Chocolate Bay, Trinity Bay, East Bay, West Bay, Lower Galveston Bay.and Upper Galveston Bay.

The commission requests comments from the public on its TMDLs for Bacteria in Oyster Waters along the Upper Texas Coast. The public comment period is May 23 through June 21, 2008.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will conduct two meetings to receive comments on the six draft TMDLs.

Monday, June 9, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. at Clear Lake Park Meeting Room, 5001 NASA Road 1 in Clear Lake.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 2:00 p.m. at White Memorial Park, Whites Park Exhibit Hall, 225 Whites Memorial Drive in Hankamer.

Comments not submitted at the public meeting must be provided in writing and submitted to: Casey Johnson, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Chief Engineer's Office, Water Programs, MC 203, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087 or faxed to: 512-239-1414.

After the public comment period, commission staff may revise the draft TMDLs for the six bays. Upon commission approval of a final document, the TMDL and a response to public comments will be made available on the commission's website at: http://www.tceq.state.tx.us

Final TMDLs will be adopted by the commission and subsequently reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval as an update to the State Water Quality Management Plan.

The draft TMDL plans are available online. Just click here.

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