Thursday, July 24, 2014

Neighbor to Neighbor News and Events

Neighbor to Neighbor News Pass it on...
July 22, 2014

Hill Country News
"Destination Junction" Community Meeting All InvitedThe South Llano Watershed Alliance invites all persons interested in protecting and restoring the confluence of the North Llano River and South Llano River to attend a community meeting on Thursday, July 31st at 6pm in the Kimble County Courthouse. Topics to include: Strengths of our Water Resources, Fundamentals of Hill Country Rivers, creating a Land of Living Waters Nature Center and Effective Water Quality Protection Measures for Development in the Hill Country. Learn more
Can brush control program enhance water supplies?“A state program meant to encourage old-school range management and new-school water saving methods has become the subject of a peculiarly Texas controversy. The State Soil and Water Conservation Board will decide Monday how to disburse millions of dollars to clear brush from ranches in the name of boosting water supplies. Money has already been set aside for projects to begin this summer.” Read more from Asher Price at

Call for 2015 Rainwater Revival Exhibitors!HCA is currently looking for Rainwater Harvesting and related businesses and organizations to exhibit at the 2015 Rainwater Revival! This one-day “edu-fest” is the perfect opportunity to meet one-on-one with citizens interested in water conservation, rainwater harvesting and native landscaping. Become an exhibitor today.

Certified Interpretive Guide Training Workshop Just added for August at Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center
Do you want to create meaningful experiences that last a lifetime? HCA is offering an Interpretive Guide Training workshop that will help you connect the minds and hearts of your audience to the beauty of nature and the mysteries of history. Register now, class size limited. Details

To protect aquifer, limit SAWS service
“Now that San Antonio Water Systems is considering acquisition of new water supplies from the Vista Ridge project, the prospect that these supplies will be used to expand development over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone looms large. By approving these utility service agreements, SAWS opens up new areas of highly sensitive aquifer lands to high density development.” Read an open letter to SAWS by Annalisa Peace as published in the San Antonio Express News.

Conservation Groups Encourage Input on State Water Funding Rules
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has proposed agency rules to govern the use of a new state water project fund approved by voters last November with the passage of Proposition 6. State conservation groups are encouraging Texans to take the opportunity to review and comment on the proposed rules. Hearings on the rules begin next Thursday, July 24 in San Antonio, with additional public hearings set for August 13 in San Angelo and August 21 in Fort Worth. In addition TWDB is taking comments via email and postal mail or through a portal on the agency’s website. Read more from Ken Kramer.  A guest commentary was published in the San Antonio Express News today by Luke Metzger of Environment Texas. Read “State Water Fund Rules a Big Deal.”

Cibolo Conservancy sets Aug. 6 workshop to help families protect land, get tax incentives
A workshop exploring how families can legally protect and preserve the legacy of their land – and be eligible for tax relief at the same time – will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, at the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm auditorium. Details

HCA Video: I'm for the Hill Country
The Texas Hill Country is irreplaceable. Take a few moments to watch and learn about the issues of this great region. You can support HCA by donating online today or by simply letting others know about our work. Watch now

Upcoming Events
July 24 in San Antonio - TWDB Board work session on SWIFT draft rules - Details

July 29 in Austin - Austin Youth River Watch Community Forum on Austin Teens and the Environment - Details

July 31 in Junction - South Llano Watershed Alliance “Destination Junction” Community Meeting - Details

August 6 in Boerne - Workshop exploring how families can legally protect and preserve the legacy of their land – and be eligible for tax relief at the same time, hosted by the Cibolo Conservancy - Details

August 15 in Dripping Springs - Better Lights for Better Nights - Details

August 19 in Junction - Texas Living Waters Conference - Details

August 26 in Austin - Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council & Lone Star Rail District Discussion on the Future of Transportation & Reception with State Representative Larry Phillips - Details

September 12 in Kendalia - 2014 New Landowner Series: Wildlife and Range Management, Brush Work and Sculpting - Presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Details

September 26-28 in Belton - Renewable Energy Roundup - Details

September 28 in Austin - 7th Annual Celebration of Children in Nature - Hosted by The Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin and the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center - Details

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jacob's Well Is The Coolest Place To Swim In Texas, The Huffington Post | By Carly Ledbetter

Think diving off the deep end is scary? Try jumping into Jacob's Well, which looks like the perfect
-- if not terrifying -- way to spend a summer day.

Called "The Gem of Texas Hill Country," Jacob's Well is in Wimberley -- a short, 45-minute drive from Austin. The well was discovered in 1850 and is one of the longest underwater caves in Texas.

Its unique coloring and caving system is a "result of slightly acidic rainfall interacting with and
eroding the limestone over millennia," which translates to seriously pretty water and way-cool diving experiences.

But, like any sort of cliff-diving, swimming here can get tricky -- especially with no lifeguards on duty. Jumpers must be extra cautious when leaping from the rocks (signs say not to jump, but that doesn't stop most folk).
The best way to avoid any issues is to stay away from swimming deep within the caves.
Here are some people far braver than us taking the plunge: Click here to view more images

Discover the Edwards Aquifer – The San Marcos Springs & River Workbook

The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment
951 Aquarena Springs Drive, San Marcos, TX
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Presenters: Penelope Speier, artist and Director of the 04ARTS Foundation for Arts in Education and Sarah Valdez, Edwards Aquifer Authority Education Coordinator

Embracing our natural affinity for the natural world, we invite you on an artistic journey to the San Marcos River.
9:00-9:45 Introduction to Visual Thinking Strategies
The (VTS) is a highly interactive, student-centered methodology for teaching observation, listening and critical thinking skills.

9:45-10:15 Nature Walk explaining Nature Journaling
Art Workshops to illustrate Lesson Plans from the Discover The Edwards Aquifer - San Marcos 

Springs & River Workbook
Participants will be able to experience both stations.

10:15-11:45 Station 1 – River Banners
Celebrate the river with colorful prayer flags

11:45-12:30 Lunch – will be provided.

12:30-2:00 Station 2 – Drawing the River
TexasWild Rice and botanical illustration

2:00-2:30 Reflection and Evaluation
Activities and resources discussion to reflect on how the workbook can be used in individual situations

Resources: San Marcos Public Library

Jacob’s Well called ‘coolest place’ in Texas, By Dalton Sweat Editor

  Wimberley’s hidden little swimming hole has been growing in popularity for years, and it seems the world has finally figured out just how amazing Jacob’s Well is.
The Huffington Post, a blog-based website that aggregates news articles and is one of the top 100 most visited websites, named Jacob’s Well the “coolest place to swim in Texas” on Sunday. 
They aren’t the only ones either. While the website didn’t rank the Wimberley swimming hole quite as high,it did name Jacob’s Well second best swimming hole in the state. The Houston Chronicle named it one of the top 21 swimming holes in Texas this summer also.

Zach Neuhalfen made it to Jacob’s Well for the grand opening from
Killeen where he is currently stationed at Fort Hood. He took in the
unique aerial view of the well before plunging into the water.
(Photo by Dalton Sweat/Wimberley View)
It was just a few years ago that a person from Wimberley could find a decently quiet afternoon in the cool waters of the well. Now, most afternoons the well is filled with people from all over the world. 
Those working at the Jacob’s Well Natural Area said that the traffic has increased, and after asking visitors how they heard about the well, they believe the increase in online publicity has made a substantial difference.
“It’s a lot of people,” David Baker, of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, said. “It’s almost loving it to death. I guess it is a good problem to have though, because I do think that people who experience the well and can be educated about what a special place that is hopefully builds a larger constituency of people who want to protect the water and conserve it.”
Some websites have given Jacob’s Well other names. Many tabloid-like websites throughout the internet have called it the most dangerous place to dive on earth with the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail calling it the “Dive of Death” after word got out that, over its history, eight people have died scuba diving in the well. The last death was in the 1980s.
For whatever reason they are showing up, it’s apparent that Jacob’s Well is no longer the hidden gem of Wimberley, rather it is one of the most popular places in the state of Texas. 

TWDB to hold work session in San Antonio on July 24

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will hold a work session to provide information on the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and State Water Implementation Revenue Fund (SWIRFT) rule development process.

The agency is encouraging interested stakeholders to attend and provide comments on the draft rules for the SWIFT and SWIRFT.

The meeting will be held at the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus, One University Way, Senator Frank L. Madla Building, on July 24, 2014, at 1:00 p.m.

In addition, the Board will hear a presentation on drought conditions across the state and consider financial assistance for local water projects. 

For participants traveling by public bus, please consult the  VIA Metropolitan Transit website for route options. Bus route 520, stop #26183, is the drop off location for A&M's campus.

To protect aquifer, limit SAWS service area Annalisa Peace, For the Express-News : July 18, 2014 : Updated: July 18, 2014 2:18p

Annalisa Peace is the executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.
SAN ANTONIO — Now that SAWS is considering acquisition of new water supplies from the Vista Ridge project, the prospect that these supplies will be used to expand development over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone looms large.

Since January, the consent agendas at SAWS board meetings have featured 26 requests for water and sewer utility service agreements on the Edwards watershed. Most were approved with no discussion.
By approving these utility service agreements, SAWS opens new areas of highly sensitive aquifer lands to high-density development.

Gene Dawson, president of Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc., sums up the issue quite succinctly in an April 9 article in the San Antonio Express-News, “Business in, waste out,” stating, “Organized wastewater collection is what drives development.”

When SAWS provides water and sewer service, it enables much higher density, usually as high as four to six lots per acre. Housing developments of this density bring increased traffic, thoroughfare construction, sewage infrastructure installed within streams that recharge the aquifer and other related impacts, all leading to pollution of the aquifer.

For this reason, the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, or GEAA, has consistently opposed SAWS wastewater service contracts over the Edwards Aquifer recharge and transitions zones, and the contiguous contributing zone.

At the April 21 meeting of the SAWS board's Policy and Planning Committee, SAWS staff made a presentation regarding SAWS' role in land development.
The question: “Should SAWS oversize infrastructure to tracts over the Edwards Aquifer recharge or contributing zones?”

SAWS staff listed several reasons why they should expand infrastructure to new developments. The sole reason provided by staff against doing so was that “some developments are over recharge or contributing zones.”

To make a decision on this very important issue, we think the SAWS board should be aware of the following facts:

There are a host of expensive regulatory requirements involved with expanding development over the recharge zone, including regular camera testing of sewage lines and inspection of stormwater filtration basins.

None of these measures is required for development that is not over the recharge zone, and these expenses are currently borne by all SAWS ratepayers.
So it appears that SAWS ratepayers are subsidizing development in our most environmentally sensitive area.

In 2007, GEAA and San Geronimo Valley Alliance successfully contested SAWS' permit applications to the state for designation as the sole provider of water and sewer service for large areas of the recharge zone.

Unfortunately, we did not have funds to protect the entire recharge zone in San Antonio's extraterritorial jurisdiction from SAWS' misguided permit applications.

Consequently, SAWS was later required to issue water and wastewater service contracts to Crescent Hills, the controversial high-density development next to the Bracken Cave and preserve.

Acquisition of SAWS service had the effect of driving up the purchase price of this land — making it more expensive for San Antonio to protect this unique part of the recharge zone.

GEAA is calling on SAWS to amend state permits to exclude the entire recharge zone from the area where it is required by law to provide service.

Monitoring conducted by the Edwards Aquifer Authority routinely detects anthropogenic contaminants such as unmetabolized drugs at Comal and Hueco springs. Presence of these pollutants indicates that urbanization of the recharge zone is affecting water quality, as these constituents could only have come from the wastewater stream.

We suspect that the high incidence of SAWS sewage leaks on the recharge zone is contributing to the degradation of our water supplies.

Developments outside of the city of San Antonio's extraterritorial jurisdiction are not subject to San Antonio's water quality ordinances. Nor do they benefit the residents of San Antonio by contributing sales or property taxes. SAWS should not be serving these areas.

These are just a few of the reasons we have for urging the members of the SAWS board to set policy that is consistent with protecting the Edwards Aquifer.

We thank the one board member who has met with us so we could raise some of our concerns during the deliberations that followed the staff presentation.

It is our hope that all the SAWS board members take the opportunity to meet with us prior to adopting a policy regarding service on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. And we urge all concerned citizens of San Antonio to contact SAWS board members to let them know you favor enhancing protection of the Edwards Aquifer by curtailing SAWS utility service agreements within this region.

SAWS does an excellent job for the residents of San Antonio in so many aspects of its operations. In our opinion, protecting the Edwards Aquifer is not one of them.
Since SAWS is the agency empowered by the city to enforce San Antonio's water quality ordinances, we hope the board will move forward with a well-informed discussion of these issues in the near future.

We need SAWS to become part of the solution in protecting the Edwards Aquifer, not part of the problem.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Water Planners Focus on Bigger Texas, Not a Hotter One

Water Planners Focus on Bigger Texas, Not a Hotter One
by Neena Satija
July 14, 2014

After Texans overwhelmingly approved spending $2 billion in public funds on new water infrastructure projects last November, Republicans and Democrats alike hailed the state’s ability to solve its water woes in the wake of explosive growth and debilitating drought.

But as state water planners prepare to spend that money and address Texas’ water needs in the coming decades, they are only planning for a bigger Texas — not a hotter one. Scientists say Texas Republican leaders’ aversion to reducing the state's economic dependency on carbon-polluting fossil fuels — and their reluctance to acknowledge climate change — prevent the state from properly planning for the impacts of a warming planet on natural resources crucial to its growing population.

“Climate change will affect water supply by 5 to 15 percent in the next 50 years,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think [the effects] are small enough to ignore.”

Nielsen-Gammon and other scientists say higher temperatures due to global warming are already diminishing water resources, and that climate change will cause the southern and western portions of the state to become drier. Those regions supply water for fast-growing cities like Austin and San Antonio, as well as the Rio Grande Valley.

The Texas Water Development Board “does not have an official position on climate change,” said Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator of the agency. Nor does it consult with climate scientists on their long-term projections. Instead, the agency plans for how a larger population might deal with a repeat of the worst drought recorded in Texas history — considered the multiyear drought of the 1950s.

That means the water board does not take into account that the state is at least one degree Fahrenheit hotter on average than it was 20 years ago, significantly exacerbating the drought gripping Texas. Because of higher temperatures, soil is often so dry it sucks up excess rainfall before that water runs off into rivers and reservoirs, and more water evaporates into the atmosphere. That trend is expected to continue, climate scientists say, and needs to be a part of the conversation when planning for the state’s water future.

Asked why the state’s chief water planning agency does not take climate change projections into account, Mace said, “You’d have to talk to the Legislature to answer that question.”

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the Legislature has no plans to direct the agency to incorporate climate change projections into its water planning in the future.

"It's not a parameter that we've requested they look at," he said, adding that "there is a disagreement within the people of Texas on the science of greenhouse gases."

Austin’s Diminishing Water Resources

When Perry held up a skateboard to mark the beginning of the “X Games” sports competition in Austin last month, his message was clear: Texas’ capital city is booming, like the rest of the state, thanks to Texas Republicans’ fiscally conservative and business-friendly policies. Between 2011 and 2016, Forbes projects, Austin’s economy will grow more than 6 percent. In the last decade, the city has added 155,000 people.

An hour-and-a-half northwest of Austin, there is a different picture. Lake Buchanan, one of two water-supply reservoirs for much of Central Texas, is so low that lakeside residents regularly drive their Jeeps in what should be 20 to 30 feet of water. Cracked culverts and foundations of old houses that were flooded to make room for the reservoirs more than 70 years ago are now easily visible where the lake once stood. Low levels on the second reservoir, Lake Travis, have caused some Central Texas cities to spend millions of dollars extending their pipes further into the lake to take in needed municipal water supplies. Other towns have had to truck in water.

There’s little doubt in climate scientists’ mind that warmer temperatures have played at least some part in the extensive drought. 2011 was the hottest summer ever on record in Texas, and the following summer broke the record again. In a 16-month period, the lakes lost 130 billion gallons of water, or about one-fifth of their capacity. Officials called that rate “staggering” and suggested the hydrology of the lakes was significantly different than in the past. In the last three years, evaporation has claimed as much or more water from the lakes as the city of Austin uses annually.

Even as some significant rainfall has taken place in recent months, the lakes havenot recovered, due in part to higher temperatures that dried out the soil, water officials and scientists say. “The soil just sucked up any rain that came in and it didn’t run off [into the reservoirs],” said Karen Bondy, senior vice president of water resources for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which manages the reservoir system.

To point out the impact of hotter temperatures on an already severe drought, LCRA officials have noted that even though up to seven inches of rain fell on some parts of the lakes’ watershed last September, the lakes gained only one percent of their capacity. By contrast, less than half the rain fell in similar areas in 2007, but added four times as much water to the lakes.

What’s happening to Austin’s water supply, and that of all the fast-growing cities outside of it, rings eerily true to a climate change study that the LCRA commissioned a decade ago. CH2M Hill, an engineering firm, conducted the study and evaluated a large body of climate research at the time.

“The analysis that we were seeing was telling us [that] the one thing we are going to see is higher temperatures,” said James Kowis, who was the LCRA’s director of water planning at the time. That would mean drier soils, less runoff and more evaporation. In other words, population increases and more economic activity — “demand-side” water issues — were not the only ones that would affect Texas’ water supply in the future. 'Supply-side’ issues could have a large impact too, Kowis said.

The study also found that while there was no clear consensus on rainfall projections, Texas should expect to see more weather extremes and shifts in climate that are even more sudden than is already common in the state.

While the public has "assumed that human societies can adapt to gradual climate change,” the study’s authors wrote, "... recent climate research has uncovered a disturbing feature of Earth’s climate system: it is capable of sudden, violent shifts.”

A 2010 article in the Texas Water Journal by 12 scientists, including some at the University of Texas, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University, had similarly dire predictions for the state’s water resources. “Under essentially all climate model projections, Texas is susceptible to significant climate change in the future … and has the strong potential of extreme stress on its water resources.”

Today, models also strongly indicate that the dividing line between Texas’ rainier eastern portion and its drier western portion, which is roughly at Interstate 35, will move farther to the east. That has major implications for the water supplies of all the booming cities along I-35 — namely Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

But while Bondy said the LCRA is taking some climate projections into account while planning, the state is not, though Texas’ 2012 State Water Plan does note: “Climate scientists have developed models to project what the Earth’s climate may be like in the future under certain assumptions, including the composition of the atmosphere.” Attempts in 2009 by some lawmakers to establish a climate advisory committee for the Texas Water Development Board were unsuccessful.

The state’s 16 regional planning groups can make their own tweaks to anticipate fewer water supplies in the future, and some have done so. But Texas has not funded a single study on the impacts of climate change on water resources.

“We look at demographic projections, we look at financial projections,” to plan for water resources, said Mark Shafer, a University of Oklahoma-based climate scientist and the author of a portion of the federal government-sponsored National Climate Assessment. “Climate’s just another piece of that … climate should be just like any other information. We can pretend that this stuff doesn’t exist, and then be surprised when it does happen.”

Getting hit the hardest

Bruce McCarl, an agricultural economist whose work on climate change impacts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 (he shared the prize with Al Gore and other scientists), believes climate change will affect water resources far more than just a 15-percent reduction, as the state climatologist projects. McCarl has spent much of his life studying the impacts of global warming on agriculture. That’s where he says the effects will be the most severe in Texas.

“There may need to be some sort of farmer assistance, at least with enhanced education, about how to cope,” McCarl said.

While some Texas cities are making their own plans for a hotter and drier climate, Texans who make their living in agriculture and reside in more remote areas of the state might not have time on their side. Scientists say smaller towns in West Texas and the Panhandle will be the hardest hit, as will rapidly growing and urbanizing South Texas.

South and West Texas are already more arid than much of the state. But they are also expected to see less rainfall on average than they have historically as temperatures continue to climb and warm air dominates the state, pushing the typical “meeting point” between cold and warm air — which causes precipitation — further to the north and east. That means it could get too hot and too dry to grow many commodity crops in Texas, and farmers would be forced to move northward.

Barry Goldsmith, a warming coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said temperatures in the Rio Grande Valley could be up to 10 degrees higher in 50 years than they are today, potentially prompting a reversal of the explosive growth occurring in the region.

“Everybody’s [going] to flee the southland because there’s not enough water for all the people that are here,” Goldsmith said.

South and West Texas rely heavily on underground aquifers for their water supplies, which means rain needs to be able to fall over a large area and seep into the ground to “recharge” those aquifers. A major portion of the Rio Grande River’s flow comes from groundwater-fed rivers, streams and springs in West Texas, for instance. Less rainfall puts that at risk.

“The expectation is that recharge is threatened by climate change,” said Ron Green, a hydrologist at the Southwest Research Institute, a private, independent research organization in San Antonio. “It’s those areas that rely on a good rain every few years to replenish their system that are going to suffer.”

While the state is not consulting scientists regularly on any of this data, another conservative, Republican-led neighbor is: Oklahoma. The state has used climate change modeling in its water plan for almost 10 years, said Shafer, the University of Oklahoma-based climate scientist. As a result, the state is considering measuring the potential yield of reservoirs in a “drought of record” using not just historical data, but also taking into account the effects of higher temperatures on evaporation rates and soil moisture.

The Texas Water Development Board says Texas' 16 regional water planning groups have the option to do the same — but fewer than half have done it.

Oklahoma’s approach, meanwhile, is the result of funding appropriated by that state’s legislature more than a decade ago, when the politics of climate change were very different.

“A lot has changed since then,” Shafer said, and today, “I don’t know if they would get a similar authorization through."