WILL GROWTH AFFECT OUR WATER?
Mike Mecke, Kerrville
Natural Resource Manager & Water Specialist – Retired
YES! It seems the destiny of Texas is to grow. We are exploding in population from within, from out-of-state – all together it is a very serious picture. Texas, for the most part, has limited water resources. Much of the growth is occurring along or west of I-35/I-37, which is a region known for frequent and often severe droughts. The semi-arid Central Texas’ Hill Country is where vegetation and climate from the East meets plants and climate from the West and the deserts beyond. And now, where old, largely German or just pioneer-settled towns meets tens of thousands of new comers…… us!
A high percentage of our new Hill Country newcomers came here from wetter regions or out of state. At least, that seems to be true in Kerr, Kendall and Gillespie Counties. Many of our younger or new Texans did not endure the Drought of the Fifties, as many older residents did. That intense seven to ten year drought (depending upon where you lived) was a character builder and a severe trial especially for Texas farmers and ranchers. Some turned to new irrigation afterwards. Many did not make it. You must read our Texas “bible” for those times by the late, great Elmer Kelton “The Time it Never Rained”. Elmer was at his best in that absorbing fifties novel of a family and a boy growing up and existing on a Texas ranch at that time. He makes you feel that hot, dusty drought and see the social conditions - they endure in your mind!
Growth and expanding population, home building and new businesses seem to be the main goals of most city officials, councils and the development community. That viral disease has seized even small town Texas and the Hill Country seems to be a major target area due to its beauty, climate, many rivers, springs and convenient location to major cities. We seem to be in the process of sometimes killing or destroying what we came here to enjoy and appreciate in these quaint small towns with their clear rivers, history and peaceful rural life.
The Hill Country and many areas of Texas cannot handle a lot of growth simply because there are not the water supplies to support higher populations, especially during prolonged, severe drought. Many new residents now want their homes and towns to resemble “back home” with large lush green landscapes, parks and golf courses. Years ago, water was not an issue in most cities and towns. Now it is!
There is little or no understanding of a term that is familiar to ranchers called “carrying capacity”. On a ranch or in a pasture, it means the numbers of animals, including livestock, deer and exotics, which can be maintained without damaging the desired rangeland vegetation. In good years and in drought these numbers will be managed to fit
the conditions. It is always limited by the production of desired forage and by rainfall.
2. Mecke – Growth & Water
Personally, I think towns, cities, counties and regions also have a sustainable carrying capacity for people. Water is the limiting factor usually. There is a practical and ethical limit to how much water we can beg, borrow, buy or steal from adjoining neighbors without damaging either them or the environment. These issues are now facing Texans from Amarillo to the Rio Grande Valley and from El Paso east to Dallas, San Antonio or Houston.
Many areas of the state are now beginning to realize that our groundwater – aquifers – do not exist on county lines, so geographic groups of counties utilizing the same aquifers are forming Groundwater Management Areas (GMA’s). In Kerr, we are in GMA-9. This is an improvement in groundwater management and protection as people then work together to arrive at plans for water pumping and to derive a view of what they want their aquifer to look like in the distant future……maybe: the same as now, or wells averaging 20 ft. lower, or other standards? It is causing some heartburn for people in neighboring counties or towns with differing goals for their groundwater and their area’s growth. Some of us live in small towns because we like small towns. Others may want unlimited growth or financial rewards and would be happy to see a big city grow up in our Hill Country.
Too much well pumping affects groundwater levels and spring flows. This can be a disaster for our springs, creeks and rivers - especially in a long drought. All Hill Country streams arise from springs. Downstream bays and estuaries would suffer from reduced freshwater flow and nutrients. It is all connected isn’t it?
Excessive growth is becoming more and more important across the state as we continue to grow in often poorly planned or not well organized developments and communities. Get involved locally in water meetings. Texas needs to have smart growth. Water is NOT like any other “commodity” as there is no substitute!
Truly, Water is Life!
As I drive what I refer to as the industrial corridor between Center Point and Kerrville many thoughts spin in my head. As a former teacher, connecting learning to real life made curriculum teachable. Music, news stories, art, etc. were called into action.
Music....Joni Mitchell....”Big Yellow Taxi”....
They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot
Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don't care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
We bought our “paradise” 5 years ago after the hefty rains---- the grass was green and the tank was full. But no matter the season or condition, it is still our paradise. As such we are working to heal the misuse of said land and use it in a way that adds value to the ecosystems and economy of the Hill Country rather than destroying for economic gain. I marvel that Texas and its rich history does not do more to protect its treasures....God given and man made.
Each time I pass through the industrial corridor I begin to sing “Big Yellow Taxi” and think are lessons never learned.
There were archaeologists; a beleaguered Kerr County Historical Commission Chair; a Native American; old-timers and recent immigrants; a recused Kerr County Commissioner; and a friendly, smooth-talking spokesperson for a multi-million dollar international corporation—the Kerr County Courthouse had its share of drama on Monday, Feb. 28, when the Commissioners Court met to receive public input on a proposed plan to abandon and sell the historic Camp Verde Road (owned by Kerr County) to Saint Christopher Properties, LLC (see accompanying article by Frances Lovett.)
After three hours of presentations and testimony, it appeared to be the impassioned pleas of old Kerr County families that swayed the Court, and caused Mr. Felipe Jimenez of Saint Christopher Properties, LLC (SCP LLC), to relent and withdraw the company’s petition.
THE COMMISSIONERS’ COURT
Guy Overby, Precinct Two’s new Commissioner (chosen by Judge Tinley for the Precinct, to replace deceased Commissioner Bill Williams) ignored the pleas of many of his own constituents by supporting SCP LLC’s petition. After huddling with Jimenez, Overby spoke vigorously and at length, reciting the economic benefits that he believed SCP LLC’s new restaurant would bring to Kerr County. Jimenez hinted darkly that the new restaurant wouldn’t happen without the road abandonment. Overby’s figures didn’t change the minds of the protesters.
Bruce Oehler, Commissioner for Precinct 4, might be called the hero of the day. Early in the afternoon, during Jimenez’s presentation (also lengthy), Oehler said that he “wasn’t convinced” that SCP LLC’s petition carried enough merit to outweigh the concerns of Kerr County residents. Rumor had it that Oehler received an onslaught of emails and telephone calls against the abandonment.
H.A. “Buster” Baldwin (Precinct 1), the Commission’s Liaison Appointment to work with and support the Kerr County Historic Commission, didn’t say a word, but beamed upon hearing that Robert E. Lee, while at Camp Verde, kept a pet rattlesnake.
One of the protesters’ dramatic triumphs of the day occurred when Commissioner Jonathan Letz (Precinct 3), the Court’s “enfant terrible,” recused himself from all proceedings on the subject, a scant few seconds before the meeting began. Several of the audience planned to ask Letz about rumors that his landscaping company was doing business with SCP LLC. Just before the meeting, Kerr County Attorney Rob Henneke was asked if Letz had filed a disclosure statement about this apparent conflict of interest. Although Henneke responded, “Yes, I think so,” the Kerr County Clerk’s office had no record of Letz’s disclosure statement.
Commissioner Letz, supposedly taking charge on an ill Commissioner Williams’ request, originally brought SCP LLC’s abandonment request before the Commission on Dec. 13, 2010. Due to the fact that the item on the Agenda was misworded (“Verde Creek Road” was used instead of the proper name, “Camp Verde Road”), Judge Tinley moved the issue to a later date, in spite of Mr. Letz’s urgings to continue.
Two Kerr County Historical Commission Chairpersons were largely responsible for the word getting out about the proposed action. Joseph Luther, Ph.D., a former Historical Commission Chair and professional historian, has extensively researched the Camp Verde historic site. On Nov. 5, 2010 he emailed numerous local contacts about the abandonment. Luther then went to the Hill Country Archaeological Association (HCAA) and asked them to support a request to the National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior, to designate the area as a National Historic Landmark. The HCAA rallied to the cause and many of its members were present at the hearing. Steve Stoutamire, President of the HCAA, gave an excellent presentation to the Court on the proposed historic designation plans.
Julia Mosty Leonard, the current Chair of the Kerr County Historical Commission, had the unenviable job of supporting the community’s concerns, while at the same time being politic with the Commissioner’s Court, which provides all of the Historical Commission’s funding. Monday’s decision proved her to be an exceptional and valuable champion of history in Kerr County.
The historic road appears to be an icon of the Hill Country, as passionate Kerr County residents spoke of their feelings for the road today and their memories of it in the past. One woman, moved to tears, drove from Houston to testify, and remembered driving the road with her mother and father. A tall, gray-haired man spoke haltingly of how he “just likes to drive down the road.” Gerald Witt, a former pilot and author of one of the County’s seminal histories (which now sells for over $100 a copy on Ebay), spoke eloquently to the Court about the road’s significance and the need for its preservation. Dan Simpson, a Native American and Vietnam Vet, spoke to Commissioners Baldwin, Tinley, and Oehler, and told them shortly that the abandonment “just shouldn’t happen.”
The clincher came when Mrs. Clarabelle Snodgrass, 97, tottered up to the podium and told the Commissioners to save the road. Snodgrass has dedicated at least 30 years of her life to the placement of historic markers around the County. She recently received the Governor’s Award, the Texas Historical Commission’s highest commendation.
Mr. Felipe Jimenez, representing SCP LLC, graciously conceded defeat when he withdrew the company’s petition, citing the overwhelming community response. Remaining cool and collected throughout the day, Jimenez reflected the sophistication and unusual business savvy shown by Saint Christopher Properties. It was obvious that the company had become convinced that community support was more important than the road abandonment. After the hearing, a large group of protesters adjourned to the Camp Verde Store for lunch—and Jimenez footed the bill.
Mary J. Matthews, for Kerr County Conscience