RCE North Texas - 2020

Basic Information
Title of project : 
Submitting RCE: 
RCE North Texas
Contributing organization(s) : 
University of Texas at Arlington and Trinity Coalition
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Meghna Tare
Organizational Affiliation: 
Format of project: 
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Wise, Denton, Collin, Parker, Tarrant, Dallas, Rockwall, Johnson, Ellis, Kaufman
Address of focal point institution for project: 
601 W. Nedderman Drive, Suite 105 • Arlington, TX 76019-0108
Campus Box 19333
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
The Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex encompasses 11 Counties and 10 principal cities. Trinity River, the creeks and the lakes within the DFW metroplex form an important ecological breather for the rapidly growing and urbanizing metroplex. The Upper Trinity River mainly flows through a densely-populated rapidly urbanizing area, which negatively impacts the water quality and the environmental balance of the river. Also, as the river flows through an urban area, it also becomes an important recreational outdoor oasis for the residents of the region to escape the urban densities and experience nature. This has resulted in an increasing number of residents accessing the river and its adjacent spaces for recreation. Parks, trails, nature preserves, and paddling trails are few of the ways in which residents continue to interact with the river. Considering the growing importance of the river within the region, stewards of all the water bodies within the region are important people and organizations to help understand the best ways to interact with the river and the land around it.Trinity river and
creeks, do not support swimming, boating or fishing as required by the Clean Water Act, due to high levels of bacteria. This report aims to present complex data in an easy-to-understand, user-friendly metric to help
create a road map for improving the water quality and increasing the involvement of local, regional entities as well as everyday users, to make Trinity River system an integral part of our region’s outdoor experience.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
Trinity River segments, creeks and lakes within the Upper Trinity River Basin are gaining popularity for recreational activities like paddling, swimming, birding, volunteering, fishing and hiking. Yet there is no single platform that provides users information regarding the safety of the several freshwater recreational areas (river, creeks and lakes) the region offers. Given the increasing number of kayakers and paddlers, information about the water quality and its relationship to health risks is required. E. coli is considered as the primary indicator of the potential presence of pathogens in water, as per the Environmental Planning Agency (EPA). It is considered as the primary indicator for permitting and grading of recreational use within natural water systems in the state of Texas. The aim of this project is to understand the current state of the water quality within DFW region using existing data from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and other local agencies. The future steps beyond this report card are, to understand and present the seasonality of the water quality in the Upper Trinity River system. Analyzing the seasonality of E. coli numbers in the water will help to present the best and safest times of the year for swimmers, kayakers and other users to interact with the water-bodies. It will also help to analyze the relationship of non-point pollutants locations and the built-environment’ with the water quality. The development of the report card, as a dependable metric for users and stewards, rests upon the collaborations between local and regional agencies. Collaborations will help inform the current state of the upper Trinity
watershed as well as address and inform the future of this important natural asset within our region.
October, 2019 to August, 2020
Trinity River segments, creeks and lakes within the Upper Trinity River Basin are gaining popularity for recreational activities like paddling, swimming, birding, volunteering, fishing and hiking. Yet there is no single platform that provides users information regarding the safety of the several freshwater recreational areas (Trinity river, creeks and lakes) the region offers. There is also a deficiency of water quality data for few of the critical freshwater areas within the watershed. These deficiencies have resulted in limiting information about the potential public health risks associated with recreating in the region’s water bodies. Given the increasing number of kayakers and paddlers in the river, information about the water quality and its relationship to the health risks is required. While also providing the details about when the river is safe for performing such activities.
EPA has determined that pathogens and chemical contaminants that are harmful to human health. Recreational use of any water body is permitted based on the standards set for those pathogens. People can get mildly or fatally effected by exposure to the pathogens through skin contact or swallowing the water. The amount of bacteria in the surface water tends to increase due to non-point source runoff. While waterfowl and habitats can contribute to the bacterial runoff, freshwater outlets through storm drains have been studied as high bacterial contaminators. The level on fecal coliform and enterococcal bacteria are used as indicator of the likelihood of presence of pathogenic organisms in the water. The level of such pathogens has been correlated to illness incidences in swimmers. Users exposed to these pathogens can contract stomach flu and other infections. Escherichia coli or E. coli is a subgroup of fecal coliform bacteria that is present in the intestinal tracts and feces of warm blooded animals. It is used as an indicator of the potential presence of pathogens (Texas Administrative Code, 30, §307.3). This demonstrates the need to measure E. coli in the water bodies that are used for swimming and kayaking is necessary and making is accessible to the community for decision making.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
The findings of this report have been presented to various audience who are involved in policy making decisions and education for the region such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments and various committed such as the Solid Waste Management Committee and the Water Resource Council. This will also be presented at the RCE Annual Summit/Conference planned for Spring 2021. It has also been presented to non Profit Texan by Nature.
Size of academic audience: 
Dallas Fort Worth Region ( North Texas0
The system of grading each water-body within the study area has provided a much clearer picture about the safer water-bodies for swimming and boating. A wider variation is observed in the compliance and resulting grades for all the different water-bodies throughout the Upper Trinity River Basin within the study area. The creeks tend to have lower compliance than the mainstem and lake stations. The data availability on the TCEQ website was quite patchy. The main Trinity river segments have 30 monitoring stations, but only 15 stations had E.coli data for the study period of 2013 to 2019. Important creek segments like the Elm Fork of the river, which are popular amongst kayakers, had only one monitoring station. Only Lake Lewisville out of the eight lakes in the study area did not have any data for E. coli. Lastly, TCEQ only monitored some of the creeks in the study area. To address the missing data for Elm Fork segment of the Trinity River and the Lewisville Lake, data was acquired from the city of Dallas.
A total of 98 monitoring stations located in water-bodies across the study area were analyzed for this report card. 18 monitoring stations are located within the Trinity river segments, 31 monitoring stations are located within the nine lakes in the study area, and 49 stations were in the creeks of the DFW metroplex.
The data analyzed proves that the lakes in the DFW metroplex are the safest for swimming and boating. Six out of the eight lakes meet the swimming and boating standards nearly all the time, with 95 percent days within the compliance standards for E. coli. Others, like the Lewisville meets the swimming standards for 85 percent of the days and Lake Arlington meets the standards for 80 percent of the days.
Trinity River has an overall grade of B-, which indicates that most parts of the river meet the swimming standards for most of the times. Parts of the main Trinity River are safe to swim and boat, while other parts need attention. The Elm Fork has 85 percent of the days within the compliance range and is the safest for swimming and boating. Parts of Lower West Fork and the West Fork segments are also performing well and are within the compliance range for 75 percent of the days. Whereas, the rest of the river which includes the main upper Trinity segment which goes downstream from downtown Dallas meets the swimming standards only some of the times.
However, most creeks within the DFW metroplex require attention and show large disparity in compliance standards across the study area. Few of the sampled creeks north of the West Fork and west of the Elm fork, like the Big Bear Creek, Hackberry Creek, Grapevine Creek, and Cottonwood Creek meet the swimming standards for most days. But most creeks south of the West Fork are not performing well and are not meeting swimming standards for most days.
Compared to other similar urban rivers, like the Mystic River, Trinity River basin is performing well. It has the potential to be safe for swimming and boating for most days, with local and regional cooperation and commitment to improve data monitoring of the river on regular basis. The results of the analysis also prove that more data samples for each station provide more dependable results. Also, monthly or weekly data can help estimate the weather pattern for the safety of water-bodies. The last section provides suggestions for future steps to improve the awareness of the water quality of the water-bodies within the Upper Trinity River Basin.
Lessons learned: 
A water-body is considered most unsafe for swimming after rains. This makes it essential to understand the weather pattern of the E. coli data in the DFW metroplex. The next important step for this project would be to compare and match the E. coli sampling dates with precipitation data. This will help to understand if high E. coli number days coincide with high precipitation or high rainfall days. The figure 13 shows an example of one sample station data within the Elm Fork. The data samples have been collected each month of the study period, 2013 to 2020. The E. coli samples are arranged as per the months of the year. The graph does not show precipitation data. But it is evident from the dotted black line indicating the “average of the month” that high E. coli days tend to coincide with months with high rainfall, in April and September. The graph only indicates this pattern for one station. It will be helpful to understand if this pattern in similar for other locations within the study area. Matching the data with precipitation data will help to confirm if the reason for high E. coli levels is rainfall or other non-point source pollution. Wet and dry months can be identified, similar to the Mystic River Report Card, as the next step for the project.
Key messages: 
Once a reliable dataset that provides E. coli sample on monthly and weekly basis. An advisory tool or model that can predict the safety of the water-body for swimming and boating activities will be very helpful.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
This project was conducted to SDG# 11 Sustainable Communities and SDG#3 Good Health and Well Being
This project was funded by Trinity Coalition to the amount of $10,000
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 1 - Advancing policy 
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Developing capacities of educators and trainers 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level