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!