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Agency targets water's quality

Jan. 24, 2001

Program to improve Waco water's taste



Would you believe that a pile of manure sitting three miles away could affect the quality of water that you brush your teeth with in the morning?

It can, according to a Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, which decided to place stricter waste-treatment guidelines on the new and expanding dairy farms that line the Bosque River. The new order, which is only a temporary measure, requires all new and expanding farms within the watershed, or drainage area, of the Bosque River to remove the cow manure from their fields. This is to prevent it from washing into the river and ultimately into Lake Waco, which is the water source for Waco and other Central Texas cities.

'This is probably the major environmental issue in Waco,' said Dr. Peter van Walsum, who is an assistant professor in Baylor's environmental studies department.

According to van Walsum, manure, which contains phosphorus, is left in fields and washes into the river during rainstorms.

'Phosphorus (content in the water) is what limits the growth of algae and other green plants. And when you get too much phosphorus, you get too much growth of all these different algae. That sets in place a whole chain of events that can lead to bad tasting water,' he said.

The nutrients that are in the river, however, are not toxic to humans, said van Walsum.

Dr. van Walsum also said the dairy farms are in Erath County, and Waco does not have 'jurisdiction over what the dairy farms do in another county. So Waco just recently hired a lobbyist, who will be working in Austin to try to make the case for Waco's water supply.'

The TNRCC Web site says the Bosque River is currently 'suitable for swimming, wading, fishing, drinking (with treatment), and a healthy ecosystem. However, water quality testing has found that in the north Bosque River and the upper North Bosque River, high levels of nutrients have contributed to excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants in the river, which can impair the river's aesthetic value, potentially (causing) taste and odor problems in drinking water.'

Very few students disagree with the TNRCC judgement that Waco water tastes poorly. 'I'm glad that someone is finally taking steps to improve (the taste of the water),' Bekah Holler, a San Antonio sophomore, said.

The questionable cleanliness of Waco water has driven some students to certain extremes. Carol Hirt, a Houston sophomore, says that she now refuses to use water from the tap. 'I actually buy water to drink and brush my teeth with because sometimes I find stuff floating in my glasses (of tap water),' Hirt said.

Waco Water Utility Services, which is responsible for water cleanliness, failed to immediately return phone calls.

The TNRCC order, which was an interim measure, is only meant to serve until research can be done to figure out how to reduce the excessive nutrients in the Bosque River. The TNRCC Web site does not say when any new measures will be enacted.