Habitat Surveys and Characterizations

One of the challenges faced in assessing water quality is having a good understanding of what the water bodies throughout the region look like. Is the stream a concrete lined ditch or is it totally natural with defined bends, runs, riffles, and pools? What is the area next to the stream like? Is the shoreline forested? Is there a tree canopy or is it completely cleared and exposed to the sun? Is there ground cover next to the stream to help stabilize soils and reduce erosion? What kind of aquatic life should a water body be able to support? Answers to those kinds of questions are necessary to correctly assess a water body. Additional information about the land use or land cover that is directly upstream from each monitoring location as well as what type of potential pollutant sources are contained in those watersheds can also be very helpful.

To gather this valuable information for TCEQ's assessors, the City of Houston conducted habitat assessments at 60 monitoring location on tributaries of Buffalo Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel. High levels of bacteria and, occasionally, decreased DO levels are part of each site's history. In addition to the habitat assessment at the monitoring location, investigators are looking at the areas of the watershed immediately upstream of the sampling site to determine if there are any visible sources of bacteria or pollutants that may negatively affect dissolved oxygen levels. Any pollutant sources found during the field work were reported to the appropriate city department to be further investigated and corrected. Removal of these types of pollutant sources will help to reduce the elevated bacteria and nutrient levels in area watersheds. With more than 53 site habitat characterization reports completed, the last site reports will be available in August of 2011.

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