Symposium explores land, water connection


PANELISTS Mark Steinbach, left, executive director of the Texas Land Trust, and Pam Mabry Bergman, landowner, listen to Clinton Bailey, director of public works and utilities for the City of Fredericksburg. Panelists discussed conservation and land restoration, which can affect river health.

By Ken Esten Cooke —

Healthy land means healthy rivers, a crowd of about 200 heard at a Pedernales River forum.

The Texas Water Symposium, held last Thursday at the Hill Country University Center, was entitled “The Pedernales: Challenges and Opportunities Facing an Iconic Hill Country River Basin.” A panel discussed the 120-mile river and its 800,000-acre catchment area, which is being affected by a variety of factors that have negatively affected other Texas waterways.

“Texas loses rural and agricultural land faster than any other state,” said Andrew Sansom, the moderator who is director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University in San Marcos. “The biggest danger to it is the fragmentation of family land, so we must find a way to keep large ranch tracts intact,” he said.

To illustrate that, Sansom said in 1928 when a utility pipeline was initially laid, it crossed 10 landowners’ ranches. When it was removed in 2013, it crossed more than 1,000 landowner property lines.

Sansom, who splits his time between his Austin and Stonewall residences, said the Pedernales provides more than 70,000 acre-feet of water as it recharges the Colorado River, providing water for nearly one million people downstream.

Efforts

Panelists discussed conservation efforts, ranging from city initiatives in Fredericksburg, to private ranch owner efforts of clearing, combating overgrazing and returning native habitat.

Clinton Bailey, director of public works and utilities for the City of Fredericksburg, said the state’s conditions are “close to the drought of record” in the 1950s.

“The city must have a five-year drought contingency plan and also a water conservation plan,” he said.

Conservation is being encouraged through progressive water rates, the use of smart meters, the reuse of wastewater, and a leak-detection program, which he said has recaptured between five and 15 percent of city water by fixing leaks.

“It’s also about raising awareness, and we have campaigns in local schools to start with the young people,” he said.

Pam Mabry Bergman and her husband donated their tract of land to the Hill Country Land Trust. Their 685 acres was covered with invasive cedar, but has responded well with removal and prescribed burns.

“It was a straight-up learning curve for us,” Bergman said. “But once we began planting native seeds and using prescribed burns, the springs and seeps began flowing again.”

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