by Frank Davis, HCC Director of Land Conservation
A couple weekends ago, my wife Jenny and I joined hundreds of others for the annual field trip to 700 Springs Ranch, in Edwards County. We were there to observe a true wonder of the Hill Country, where literally hundreds of springs burst forth from limestone cliffs on a privately-owned ranch along the edge of the South Llano River. The guides told tales of long ago when European settlers first arrived and subsequent campers and visitors came (including Bonnie and Clyde, if I heard correctly) and marveled at this abundant water supply. I imagined what it must have been like to witness what appeared to be an endless supply of water in otherwise dry and harsh country. The same holds true for those seeing Barton Springs in those times. What miracles to behold!
Way, way back (in 1981), Gunnar Brune in his seminal work “Springs of Texas” declared that at least 63 historically significant springs had gone completely dry. Surely, many other springs in our great state have dried up since, and our climate doesn’t appear to be getting much wetter or cooler anytime soon. So, what to do?
Well, the 2012 State Water Plan addresses many of the concerns about our long-term water supply. And the 2013 Texas Legislative Session has elicited a lot of discussion about how to prioritize and fund projects in the Plan. And many of these projects will help ensure long-term, clean water for Texas’ quickly-growing population. For example, water conservation measures in the State Water Plan include, among other things, lowering individual and household use via low-flow toilets and showerheads, preventing or limiting water loss from municipal pipes and conveyance systems, and further improvements to efficient irrigation of agricultural fields. These measures will generally result in long-term savings for both our limited water supply and our state’s budget.
In addition, the State Water Plan includes 26 new reservoirs, mostly in the eastern, wetter portion of the state. Of course, the Plan is more a “wish-list” than a real plan, so it’s not yet clear which of these reservoirs will actually be constructed over the 50 year timeline of the plan. Either way, it’s problematic that, in addition to the cost for construction and maintenance and the unavoidable impacts to the landscape and watersheds, it would take 20 or 30 years or longer to build each new reservoir, after it is funded and commenced.
I propose an additional and complementary way of thinking about our water needs. Although voluntarily limiting use and providing incentives for water conservation – as well as building new reservoirs – are certainly important and should be priorities, clean water can also be effectively preserved for future generations at a relatively low cost by protecting our “water catchment areas”, or as they are commonly called, watersheds. By preserving natural areas and working farms and ranches with tools like conservation easements, we’re assured that clean, abundant water is supplied to our creeks, rivers, aquifers and reservoirs. Furthermore, while reservoirs and wells are frequently referred to as “water supplies”, common sense tells us that our aquifers and the landscape primarily supply the clean water upon which people and wildlife depend.
As we here at Hill Country Conservancy like to say, “Preserve land, because God ain’t making any more of it”. If we truly apply this principle, we will ensure that wonders like 700 Springs and Barton Springs are here for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to marvel at, just as the first European settlers did long ago, while helping to ensure plenty of clean water for our future.