More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Today I Saved A Frog

Never underestimate the power of youth to bring about change. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t show us older folks how to be environmentally responsible. Kids get it!  

Take the case of the Discovery School of Innovation students who stepped up recently to protect our local streams. A volunteer project installing storm drain markers near their school in Grogan’s Mill piqued their interest; they wanted to learn more, get involved and make a difference. 

Along with the school’s Director, Cathy Sagar, the students started by connecting with a Township environmental educator, diving a little deeper into The Woodlands’ water quality. They studied watersheds and modeled how stormwater carries pollutants from lawns and roads into our local waterways, like Spring Creek. They also grappled with some tough problems. Some people mistake storm drains for trash cans dumping grass clippings, litter, auto fluids and more into storm drains. Unfortunately, everything dumped in the drain is carried directly to a nearby waterway.    

Others fail to pick up after their pets. Pet waste is one of our biggest water quality issues. Dangerously high bacteria levels result when waste is left on the ground. Though it eventually breaks down, harmful bacteria remains, eventually working its way into nearby water bodies, endangering aquatic organisms and humans, alike. 

The good news? Youthful determination prevailed. Understanding that something can be done about these issues, they leapt into action to get the message out: keep our creeks clean!  

Remember how everything felt so certain when you were young? On a crisp December morning, the Discovery students jumped into action, affixing markers that carry the message about pollution in storm drains. As they were finishing their final drain marker, they observed a frog intently observing them.  In that moment, they felt certain the frog was telling them they had done the right thing that day, for him and all the other critters that rely on clean water.

 

But that’s not the end of the story for these young water heroes. Each student committed to picking up litter when they see it and picking up after their pets, too. They bubbled over with enthusiasm to share their new knowledge and commitment with others, continuing to expand their impact.  

Sure, most of the Storm Drain Marker Project volunteers are adults. But none of us, young or old, should take clean water for granted. And let’s not take our action-oriented youth for granted, either. If you see them installing markers or picking up litter, give them a shout out. And consider joining them by  registering to volunteer. Save a frog, a fish, or maybe Spring Creek.  

To learn more contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800. 

Hoping the pet waste fairy picks up after your dog?

What’s pet waste have to do with wading in Spring Creek? Let’s break it down: Based on national averages, our community dog population produces about 55,000 pounds of waste per day*. Most of us are diligent about picking up after our pets, but not all. Too many feel someone else will clean it up – maybe the pet waste fairy. 

When dog waste is left behind, the bacteria it contains is washed into the nearest storm drain during rains, flowing to the closest waterway. It empties unfiltered and untreated into our community streams, creating a health hazard for humans enjoying water-based recreation. 

The contaminated water continues to the next stream, river or lake all the way to the coast and the Gulf of Mexico, adding bacteria along the way as it runs through more urban areas. Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2020 Basin Report indicates that almost 65 percent of Spring Creek is listed as impaired because of high bacteria levels. The primary source is dog waste.

42% of the streams in our region are impaired due to elevated levels of bacteria. For more information, see pages 4 and 8 of the 2020 Basin Report for more details regarding Spring Creek.

According to the Report, in the Houston-Galveston region one of the most significant water quality issues faced is elevated levels of bacteria in our local waterways – indicators of the presence of sewage and pathogens such as infectious bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. High bacterial concentrations may cause gastrointestinal illnesses or skin infections in swimmers or others who come into direct contact with the water. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, set the acceptable level of bacteria in waterways as 126 colony forming units (cfu) per deciliter (dL). On average, Spring Creek levels are between 350 and 800 cfu/dL, with the higher numbers during runoff after rainfall. The tributaries within the Township that flow into Spring Creek, Lower Panther Branch Creek, Willow Creek, Bear Branch Creek and Lake Woodlands, are all included on the list of impaired waterways because of bacteria. 

More data on impairment levels of Spring Creek are available courtesy of the Houston-Galveston Area Council

Be a responsible pet owner and don’t wait for the pet waste fairy. Picking up after our dogs and keeping our community clean, means water that’s safe for human recreation and for the aquatic organisms that live in it, and better for the environmental health of our community. 

*Resources: American Veterinary Medicine Association and  www.clearchoicescleanwater.org 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

What do you think about water?

Consumers in Texas commented on a Water Survey!

  • Do you think about your water usage on a daily basis?
  • Do you make an effort to use your appliances efficiently?
  • Do you contribute to community-oriented water conservation efforts?

In 2018, 4,000 residents across 14 states shared their thoughts on these and other questions about our most precious natural resource – water. Texas respondents to the Perspectives on America’s Water Survey numbered 383, second only to California. See if you agree with their answers.


More than half of the people surveyed thought American businesses should do more to contribute to sustainability efforts related to water:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

70 percent said YES.

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

67 percent said YES.


Are you trying to conserve water?

46 percent of consumers reported that they were personally trying to conserve water.

43 percent are willing to do more – by new daily activities at home to reduce water use.

However, 23 percent said they needed help in identifying new ways to save water.


In answer to questions about drinking water:

67 percent of consumers in the southern region of the U.S., including Texas, are concerned about contaminants in the sources of their drinking water.

Overall, 91 percent of consumers say clean water is our most important natural resource.


So what do you think?

Do you agree with their answers? We want to hear from you! Copy and paste into an email the questions below , and include YOUR responses. Send it to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Water Survey Questions:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

Are you personally trying to conserve water?

Are you willing to do more by learning about new daily activities at home to reduce water use?

Are you concerned about contaminants in the sources of our drinking water?

Do you agree that clean water is our most important natural resource?

Sign up to receive “New and Noteworthy“, a weekly update from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services to stay informed, receive notifications about events, and get tips about best water use. You will see:

  • education and information about water use and conservation
  • how to reduce contamination in local waterways
  • notices about presentations on these and other vital topics

You will also receive information on other helpful topics such as Recycling, Native Plants, Holiday trash schedules, and more. For more water-specific information visit HERE!

If you have questions, call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800.

Click HERE to view the entire Water Survey.

Smarter About Water: 4 steps to protect our watershed

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You wouldn’t want to swim in dog waste, but that’s what is happening when we’re taking a dip in most of the waterbodies in our region. Dog waste, or more specifically the fecal coliform bacteria that it carries, is prevalent throughout the San Jacinto Watershed, of which The Woodlands is a part. In fact, it’s the number one contaminant in Galveston Bay, the end point for our creeks and rivers. This was just one of the insights residents gained at the latest Smarter About Water Seminar, an annual series by The Woodlands Township.

Justin Bower, Senior Planner in Community and Environmental Planning for Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), outlined many of the issues facing our area waterways, examining impacts on recreation, drinking water and the environment. The lively question and answer session that followed underscored the critical importance of these issues to the audience.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are simple actions each one of us can take that will make a real difference for our water quality.

  • Assure that pet waste is picked up and disposed of in the trash – Whether washed overland or dissolved into the soil, pet waste that is left outdoors will eventually work its way into a local water body. More than a third of the bacteria in local water bodies comes from dog waste. Left unchecked, that figure is projected to climb to 50% within 10 years.  Contamination could grow to be almost half of the bacterial problem over the next 10 years.
  • Ensure lawn chemicals are timely and needed. Due to stress on the aquifer, a portion of drinking water comes from treated surface waters. Applying too much fertilizer to your lawn, or applying it right before a rain will send these contaminates into nearby lakes and streams, impacting water quality through algal overgrowth and reductions in dissolved oxygen. This is one reason why surface water is more expensive to treat than groundwater.
  • Conserve water and costs – The cheapest water we have is the water we have now. Developing new sources, including surface water, is expensive and will only continue to increase in cost over time. Avoid wasting water in your home and landscape to reduce the stress on our water sources.
  • Get involved in the decision making process – Lend your voice to the next round of community meetings regarding Cypress Creek and Spring Creek this fall. Discover what actions are needed to protect the health of the watershed and collaborate with others in finding solutions.

To review the current Watershed Protection Plan and other documents go to: https://westfork.weebly.com/project-documents.html

For more ways to protect and conserve water in The Woodlands Township, contact the Environmental Services Department by calling 281-210-3800, or send your email inquiry to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov