That fecal-inflection? It's the TCEQ's new Texas-brand gargle

Greg Harman

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We don't know what kind of crazyrock they're smoking up there at the Texas Council on Environmental Policy, but we'll find out tomorrow what sort of brain damage goes with it when its three Perry-appointed commissioners cast two important votes.

The first involves wide-ranging changes to the state's water quality standards that open wide the poop pipe on Texas lakes, rivers, and streams. By expanding the designation of surface waters used for a variety of “contact recreation” uses, the cleaner surface waters now allowed to contain E coli levels of 126 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters (conveniently also the U.S. EPA's recommended upper limit for “full body contact”) would be adjustment upward to allow for 206 colonies.

While that is still of a range that won't likely send the U.S. EPA into fits, according to our insider aquatics expert, other waterways designated for less intensive contact recreation (something called "secondary contact number 2," or alternately, "where your kid goes exploring") may be allowed to have more than 1,000 bacterial colonies per 100 milliliters.

Our advice? Don't fret over accidentally swallowing some crypto, just leave your whole head in a biohazard box back in the boat.

Shocking as this may sound, the TCEQ's recommended change is not based on some out-of-left-field consensus-busting science proving once and for all that excrement-enriched water is good for us. Instead, call it a matter of practicality. As EPA TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrow told the Longview News-Journal recently, the agency was suffering from a nasty case of optimism when it set the original level on allowable feces â?? but it's time to get real.

“â?¦ it's become important to ensure the standards for specific water bodies provide appropriate, realistic targets,” she said.

To which Thomas McGarity, enviro law prof at UT, responds:

The TCEQ may believe that its predecessor agencies made a mistake years ago when they concluded that the bulk of Texas rivers and streams should support contact recreation. Perhaps TCEQ should have put the Colorado River upstream from Austin in the same "industrial use" category as the Houston Ship Channel. But most Texans want their rivers and streams to be clean enough to swim in.

The agency's decision to increase pollutants blamed for a variety of illnesses will certainly make the ag interests â?? who have come to rely on creeks like the Cibolo, Leon, and Hondo to flush their animal wastes â?? plenty happy. But elevated poop doesn't always stay in the chute, so to speak. Across the fractured Hill Country, surface water frequently disappears into the groundwater, which in Bexar County would be our unfiltered Edwards Aquifer.



Crack-induced vote number two? Where the rubber meets the road on our air-quality future: Las Brisas. Subtitled: In which strong-willed commissioners declare their independence from a meddlesome EPA by damning coastal residents to an alternate (heart-stopping) realm known as smogland.


You can submit your comments online, by phone/fax, or in person at the Wednesday meeting.

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