Texas Watershed Steward Workshop Planned for Seguin, Nov. 10 (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

The Texas Watershed Steward (TWS) program, in the words of the official AgrilLife Extension website for the program

is a series of statewide one-day educational programs designed to improve the quality of Texas’ water resources by educating and informing local stakeholders about their watershed, potential impairments, and steps that can be taken to help improve and protect water quality in their watershed.

A “stakeholder,” I’ve learned, is someone who is affected by or “holds a stake” in the availability and quality of water in the watershed. I guess that could be anybody who lives there or downstream.

A flooding Guadalupe River at Comfort, Texas, during the wet summer of 2007. This is far upstream from the Seguin area, but it is the Guadalupe. Photo by Gary Cutrer.

A flooding Guadalupe River at Comfort, Texas, during the wet summer of 2007. This is far upstream from the Seguin area, but it is the Guadalupe. Photo by Gary Cutrer.

The next workshop is planned for Tuesday, Nov. 10 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) River Annex, 905 Nolan in Seguin, Texas (Geronimo Creek Watershed).

The workshop will focus on water quality issues in the Geronimo Creek Watershed as well as efforts by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Guadalupe-Blano River Authority, and Texas AgriLife Extension Service to help improve water quality in this water body.

After that the next workshop will be Thursday, Dec. 3  from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Jefferson Transportation Center, 305 N. Austin Street in Jefferson, Texas (Caddo Lake Watershed).

Several workshops have already been held, throughout 2008 and 2009, and more are in the works for 2010.

Here is a typical workshop agenda.

Drouth Provides Hidden Benefit for Some Lakes (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Lake Travis lost considerable elevation during the drouth of the past few years.

Lake Travis lost considerable elevation during the drouth of the past few years.

Beautiful Lake Travis just west of Austin was hard hit by the recent/current drouth, dropping some 40 or so feet. But now, after two weeks of rain, sometimes torrential, the lake is on the rise, according to a Oct. 29 news article in the Austin American-Statesman by Mike Leggett.

According toTexas Parks and Wildlife biologist Steve Magnelia, when drouth drives lake levels down, the new vegetation that grows on the exposed formerly underwater areas of the lake acts to renew the lake and help fish populations once the lake refills to normal levels.
Trees, grass and bushes begin to grow on moist, exposed soils every time the lake drops a little more. As the drouth continues, the new vegetation becomes more substantial.
As the water begins to rise and spread out through the vegetation, there’s more food for small bait fish, such as shad, and more hiding places for small game fish, such as bass. Especially in the spring, spawning success increases dramatically because of the increased food supply and purer habitat for all the fish.
Fishing in the years that follow gets better and better. There are more game fish, and they will be bigger.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Man made lakes in Texas (not sure if there are any non-man-made lakes) are either constant-level or variable level, and Travis is a variable level lake. It is one of the series of  Hill Country lakes constructed on Texas’ Colorado River. Constant level lakes are kept at spillway level at the expense of other resources upstream, whereas variable level lakes are allowed to drop due to evaporation and to feed downstream bodies of water.

Lake Buchanan, upstream from Travis, was another hard-hit lake and it caught a little water from recent rains. The Lower Colorado River Authority administers the lakes along the Colorado.

Neches River Fight: Farms, Wildlife, a River or More Water for Dallas’ Growth? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

In almost any disagreement, especially those that go to court, there are two sides, sometimes several – as here.  In this one, the decision whether saving many thousands of acres of ancient river forest and farmlands, plus a planned national wildlife preserve, should triumph, or should the City of Dallas be allowed to take the land through purchase and emminent domain for another lake and future urban water needs?  For years this has been a hotly debated battle of  saving family farms, the river and wildlife interests vs. Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board, which has sided with the city.  Personally, I side with a healthy, natural river and the rural landowners, some of whom have been on these family farms for many generations.  I also have little sympathy for a city that for decades has regularly ranked last among Texas’ major cities in water conservation and among the highest in per capita water use.  Will we have farms, a natural river riparian system or even more lush subdivisions and golf courses?   Easy choice.  I say find your future water from smart growth planning, conserved urban water, rainwater harvesting, reuse and low water-using Audubon International-type golf courses.   Read this recent Dallas article which explains some of the issues:

“Get lost with Jim Schutze while canoeing the Neches River and find the wildlife refuge Dallas wants to dam to secure its water supply

By Jim Schultze

Published on April 22, 2009

Dallas Observer

The Neches originates in underground springs just east of Colfax, about 60 miles east of Dallas on Interstate 20, and flows 420 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. We put in yesterday where the river crosses U.S. Highway 79 between Palestineand Jacksonville, about 130 miles southeast of Dallas.

Some of the land along the Neches is in old family farms, but most of it, tens of thousands of acres in Anderson and Cherokee counties, is undeveloped because it was held for the better part of a century by timber companies and leased by hunt clubs…….

The Neches River, which lies at the heart of that rapidly changing landscape, is also at the heart of a legal battle between the city of Dallas and the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  Dallas wants to dam the river to create a reservoir in exactly the same area where the USFWS is seeking to create a national wildlife refuge.

Dallas city manager Mary Suhm told me that Dallas just needs more water. Population is slated to soar, and for that there must be water. The city has an aggressive water conservation program, she said, “but that won’t get us there.”

Chris Bowers, Dallas’ first assistant city attorney, told me Dallas’ search for water is the same basic quest for survival of all cities throughout history. “This practice goes back to ancient times when the Romans built more than 600 aqueducts to convey water to some cities, including Rome itself,” he said. An entire body of law authorizes the city to go far away and acquire land by eminent domain for water, Bowers added.

The USFWS has argued in court, successfully so far, that this part of the Neches is a unique national treasure that should be protected—and that the USFWS has first claim to the land. The USFWS says it began proceedings to create a refuge before Dallas launched its process to acquire land for a reservoir, and therefore Dallas is out of luck…………….”

What are your feelings on this water battle?

Clean Water Act, Take Two (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

What started as good intentions to clean up pollution in rivers, lakes, streams and harbors in the United States eventually became, landowner rights groups say, somewhat of a bureaucratic club to knock landowners and industry over the head for minor infractions or for reasonable small and questionable pollution violations. The Clean Water Act was drawn up and enacted in the 1972 zeal to clean up the environment — the back to nature and hippy inspired granddaddy of today’s Green movement.

Originally the Act was to regulate discharges into “navigable waters.” But in Rapanos v. United States[Case], the Supreme Court clarified that the term “waters of the United States . . .”

includes only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water ‘forming geographic features’ that are described in ordinary parlance as ‘streams, … oceans, rivers, [and] lakes.’

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are the two bodies that make regulations regarding the Act’s execution and directives. Some environmentalists recently decided that the existing Clean Water Act had been weakened by the Supreme Court case above and by a 2001 case, plus more than 140  individual cases in which the courts took the side of the alleged polluters or violators of agency rules. Read more »

GBRA Seeks Larger Water Supply (Posted By Mike Mecke)

GBRA seeks larger water supply

BY EMILY ALLEN
Published:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:08 PM CDT

A new water right permit that would allow more than double the amount of water per year to be pumped from the Guadalupe River in Calhoun County is awaiting approval from the state.

Well folks, did you read the above article on using “extra”  Guadalupe River water – it is typical of the types of issues arising now across Texas from the Rio Grande to the Sabine and north to the Canadian River.  Should “excess wet year” river waters be allowed to divert for use and sale or continue to flow into the Gulf bays for our fish, shrimp businesses and recreational fishing ?  Or just merely to support a healthy Gulf ecosystem?  Or, can we have it all?

New Environmental Flow committees are being set up for the major river basins to study and decide those sticky issues with a diverse stakeholder group representing all interests and advising the state.  Issues are arising on groundwater too, such as requests to permit groundwater from the Ft. Stockton area to be pumped and used in Midland.  And it is only going to get worse we are told, as 60 Million people are projected to live in Texas by 2050!  Get informed and stay tuned. 

 

According to a press release, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s application requests the ability to divert additional water from the river for storage in “off-channel storage reservoirs” to be built in Calhoun and Victoria counties. The press release stated that water in storage would be made available to areas in need of water during drought.

GBRA is currently allowed to pump 175,501 acre-feet of water per year in the county, and hopes to add an additional 189,484 acre-feet per year in non-drought years. If approved, GBRA would be allowed to pump a total of 364,985 acre-feet of water in non-drought years………………….

THEIR WATER, OR OURS? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

by   Mike Mecke

 

Well, that time of the year is here again – hot, dry summertime in Texas.  Adding interest to this picture is a serious drought in several regions of Texas.  Virtually every part of the state as viewed on the Palmer Drought Index shows rainfall shortages, but central and south Texas are by far the hardest hit. 

Cities and water utilities have started water use restrictions and counties are enforcing burn bans.  Water planners increase their push for “new” water resources and check out supposed surpluses elsewhere.  No river, lake or aquifer is left out of these searches.  No river bottom forestland or irrigated region escapes review, study and possibly planning.  Computers know no boundaries!

Water resource planning becomes a classic case of the “have-nots” hankering for the water of the “haves.”  In most cases across Texas, that means trying to figure out how to get the water from irrigated agriculture or sparsely populated counties with good groundwater or a lake or river.  And, man, have we gotten good at that!  Immense growth often has and is still occurring in our driest regions.  Think L.A., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, etc.  In many rapidly growing areas or in cities exploding at the seams – developers and builders entice their favorite politicians into getting them water, no matter what the cost in dollars, environmental concerns or losses to Texas agriculture.  All in the name of “All Growth is Good!” and “We must either keep growing or die!”  No thought as to what may be lost forever in these mercenary transactions or whose ox is gored.

Some more enlightened utilities and political leaders are beginning to realize that Texas must grow smart – not just fast.  Texas counties, long weak on any ability to properly manage and plan growth, are beginning to band together to get the attention of a largely urban Texas legislature.  Planning commissions and regional water planning groups now have some rural and environmental representation considering the total picture and providing some protection to rural interests and concerns. Someone must speak up for the small percentage of Texans actively involved in agriculture and for rivers and wildlife which often have no voice at the bargaining tables. Foreign food is becoming an option.

 It is in everyone’s best interest to maintain healthy, somewhat normal flows in our Texas creeks and rivers.  The rivers with their lush green riparian vegetation are critical not only for quality livestock grazing, but wildlife habitat.  Fish and other vital aquatic life are found in river waters.  Ever try hunting along a dried up, parched river bed or fishing with your kids in it?  No bueno!

Then, another major part of the picture is our rivers providing timely amounts and quality of fresh waters to our beautiful and economically valuable bays and estuaries.  As go our creek and river flows, so goes our Gulf of Mexico and the billions of dollars in recreational and economic income produced for the benefit of all Texans.  Creeks and rivers with ample, clean waters are an economic necessity to small towns and cities across the state for drinking water, tourism and other aspects of their economy.  A healthy Gulf is a whole lot more than the tremendous Texas seafood industry.  Consider recreation, tourism and a whole lot more – now consider that the Gulf is going to be a major source of drinking water for several Texas towns and cities in the future through desalinization.  So, keeping it healthy and full of life is important to all of us clear up to Amarillo, Dallas or El Paso.

Ecological, geological and range management studies have shown conclusively that the stewardship of our farms and ranches can drastically affect not only the quality of the water infiltrating into aquifers or flowing into rivers, but also has the ability to greatly increase the amount of water available to urban or downstream users.  This is a win-win for everyone from increased ag income to reduced urban water costs.  The healthier farmland and rangelands or riparian areas produce more income for our ever stressed agricultural community and this translates into a healthier Texas economy.  It is common for landowners to know what is needed to better manage their irrigated farms, watersheds or catchments, but not to have the economic resources required for often very expensive practices.  It is clearly in the interest of urban and rural residents to jointly encourage and promote the research or even applied management needed to wisely manage and treat rural watersheds.  More rainfall in = more water out!

Dr. Thad Box, a prophetic Texas rangeman, once stated to the effect of “…the most valuable product of rangelands will someday be pure water!”  That time is now!  So ideally, rangelands should be managed not only to provide livestock forage, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, but perhaps most of all, to produce sufficient quantities of clean water throughout watersheds (catchments). This is the water which maintains creek and river flows and recharges aquifers.  Often, the management is complimentary.  If rangelands do not receive good land stewardship they soon lose some of the beneficial watershed characteristics so desired by hydrologists……and needed by livestock and wildlife.

These watersheds and water resources are found largely in our rural regions, but remember, water markets, much of the needed funding and the votes are in the cities! So, we all need each other and we must cooperate as friends, neighbors and fellow Texans in order to achieve many of our goals.  As any good Texas farmer or rancher can tell you – seldom does anything come easily or automatically in agriculture!

                                    Remember – Water is Life! Or Agua es Vida!

The Right Hurricane; Updated Below (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

This hurricane season has been dead quiet. I wonder how that sits with the AGW (Anthropocentric Global Warming) theory supporters? Remember 2005? All the big hurricanes hitting the Gulf states were due to global warming, according to a lot of the theory’s loudest proponents. And hurricanes would just get worse and worse each year they claimed. This year? Crickets. And warm Gulf breezes.

For coastal cities no hurricane news is good news, but the big storms are good in that they push a lot of rain inland to our dry regions.

Five-day cone prediction, National Hurricane Center. Click to see most recent map.

Five-day cone prediction, National Hurricane Center. Click to see most recent map.

Now, Hurricane Rick is on the way. This Pacific storm is forecast to make landfall on the Pacific tourist areas of Mexico and to drive inland toward Texas. Hopefully, coastal damage and flooding will be minimal and we’ll get a good shot at some rain for West Texas and more importantly, the drouth stricken areas of Central and South Texas.

Rick could be the storm we need to help break the drouth and refill some lakes and reservoirs–the right hurricane.

UPDATE:

Well, I guess I’m the world’s worst weatherman. Rick came ashore today, Wednesday, Oct. 21, and fizzled from a Category 5 monster to a wimpy Tropical Depression when it hit Mexico’s mountains.  So, I will trust the weather report from experts next time — they never thought Rick would do much for Texas in the way of rainfall.

Water Shortage; Water Surplus (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Quachita River in South Arkansas wends its way through forests and cotton and soybean fields.

Quachita River in South Arkansas wends its way through forests and cotton and soybean fields. Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Depending on where you live on Earth you no doubt experience either insufficient water or an abundance, even excess, of water. Growing up in South Arkansas, I never considered that having more water or more rain would be desirable. Winter and early spring, especially, seemed dismal, with rain that seemed to stretch for weeks on end, and sometimes did.

Spring rains came so steadily and often, that when the rain finally broke, the entire landscape was soggy. When I walked outside, my footprints would fill up with water. For weeks after the rainy season, I could dig a posthole and it would immediately fill with water.

South Arkansas rivers and creeks are plentiful and they often flood, overrunning their banks and blocking highways and roads, especially in spring. A “drouth” consists of going two weeks without rain and that does happen once in a while, usually in late summer or early fall.

Semi-arid West Texas is always needing rain, seems like, though some years are better than others, as in this shot. Photo by Gary Cutrer.

Semi-arid West Texas is always needing rain, seems like, though some years are better than others, as in this shot. Photo by Gary Cutrer.

Now I live in West Texas and water is always a concern, especially for those of us who make a living in agriculture. Rainfall is rare and welcomed when it does come. Getting enough rain and water is a big concern for the larger cities in our area as well. And our mega-cities in Texas, such as the San Antonio-to-Austin megalopolis, are demanding more and more water resources, to the point of attempting to politically limit water rights for rural landowners.

Now, if we could just package up some of that excess South Arkansas water and ship it to West Texas and let it loose, that would solve two problems at once. But how do we do that? The likelihood is that such a solution is impossible. So we’ll have to make do with and conserve what we have, use technology and our noodles and think of new solutions.

This blog will address water issues with a focus on Texas and the Southwest — because that’s where the authors reside and because water is a big concern here, as it is many places in the world. We hope you find some value in our opinions and insights and the links to related information we plan to provide here. Please bookmark us and return often!