Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, [email protected]
Contact: Dr. Diane Boellstorff, 979-458-3562, [email protected]
Dr. Drew Gholson, 979-845-1461, [email protected]
John W. Smith, 979-845-2761, [email protected]

COLLEGE STATION – The Texas Well Owner Network has earned a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 2018 Texas Environmental Excellence award in the category of education.

large room filled with about 100 participants
A Texas Well Owner Network training in Fredericksburg.

The Texas Well Owner Network, developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M University’s Texas Water Resources Institute, helps private well owners learn to protect water resources and properly maintain wells to ensure safe water supplies.

According to the TCEQ, the Texas Environmental Excellence Award is the state’s highest environmental honor and acknowledges achievements in environmental preservation and protection in diverse categories. Award winners will be celebrated at the commission’s Environmental Trade Fair and Conference May 15-16 at the Austin Convention Center.

“The network was designed to deliver a science-based, community-responsive education curriculum for Texas residents who depend on household wells for their water,” said Dr. Diane Boellstorff, AgriLife Extension water resource specialist in the department of soil and crop sciences, College Station. “It focuses on protecting groundwater quality and aquifer integrity.”

Dr. Drew Gholson, Texas Well Owner Network program coordinator and AgriLife Extension program specialist in soil and crop sciences, College Station, said with more than a million private water wells in the state, education and training are essential for ensuring public health and safety.

“This is especially true since private well owners are responsible for monitoring and maintaining their wells and are at a greater risk for exposure to compromised water quality,” Gholson said.

He said the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and other partner agencies and organizations collaborate in the network to help provide screenings, trainings and other educational outreach.

people with cups containing water samples
Ryan Gerlich, an AgriLife Program Specialist in BAEN, screens water samples for nitrates and total dissolved solids with well owners at a TWON event.

“The TWON team is honored to receive this award as we know there are many great environmental educational programs in Texas and that TCEQ looks over the applications very closely,” Boellstorff said. “We are fortunate to have an excellent team that spans the Texas A&M University departments of soil and crop sciences, biological and agricultural engineering, agricultural leadership, education and communications, and the Texas Water Resources Institute.”

Primary funding for the program is provided through a Clean Water Act non-point source grant from the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“A main goal of the program is to help private well owners learn about managing their wells and protecting water quality though ‘Well Informed’ screenings, ‘Well Educated’ workshops and other events across the state,” said John Smith, AgriLife Extension program specialist, College Station.

John Smith and people walking into building
AgriLife Extension Program Specialist John Smith welcomes participants to a TWON event in Weatherford.

He said these events focus on protecting groundwater and aquifers, well and septic system maintenance and construction, and how to improve water treatment and quality.

“These educational opportunities allow participants a better understanding of the relationship between practices in or near wells and the quality of water available for drinking and irrigation,” Smith noted.

Boellstorff said since TWON’s inception in 2011, more than 7,800 private well owners have benefited from the program’s well screenings and educational events.

“Program participants can bring in water well samples to have them screened for pollutants,” she said. “We can then identify the possible source of contaminants and give recommendations on how to remediate that contamination,” she said. “This also helps the well owner develop best management practices for the site.”

She noted efforts by the network in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey showed environmental leadership by providing a rapid response for water well screenings for Texans in the affected area.

people with sample bottles
AgriLife Extension Specialist Drew Gholson and volunteers collect samples from water wells affected by hurricane Harvey during the water testing event in Wharton County.

“Texas Well Owner Network has been intensely engaged in responding to the emergency need created by Hurricane Harvey for flooded water well testing,” she said. “Through collaborative efforts with partners, more than 1,500 additional, free water tests were conducted through 61 well testing events in 29 hurricane-impacted counties. We also have communicated private water well best management practice information and shared educational materials, including well disinfection instructions and training, with the goal of reducing instances of well contamination.”

She said these efforts were well-received by those in the affected communities. The network plans to continue providing hurricane-related free water testing, educational information and well disinfection events as needed.

Boellstorff said the program does more than teach private well owners how to be good stewards of the environment by using best management practices to reduce their impact on the state’s water supply and to prevent contamination.

“The program is more than just an environmental education program—it represents the importance of fostering environmental stewardship in a community to protect public health and our natural resources,” she said.