Texas’ largest pool, at spring-fed Balmorhea State Park, offers a natural bottom and crystal-clear water. (Texas Parks & Wildlife) My great-grandfather founded our family’s Hill Country ranch in 1887. For nearly 100 years, spring water flowed through the seeps and creeks of our land, year-round, and almost without exception. […]
My great-grandfather founded our family’s Hill Country ranch in 1887. For nearly 100 years, spring water flowed through the seeps and creeks of our land, year-round, and almost without exception.
The water began to dry up a little more than 30 years ago as more people dug wells into the Middle Trinity Aquifer.
Today, more and more of the water on our ranch stands in stagnant pools. The water level in the well that my family drinks from has dropped more than 60 feet in the last 20 years after staying almost constant for decades before then.
Obviously, the prospect of being unable to water our livestock concerns my extended family, especially those who make most of their income from beef, lamb, wool and mohair.
But what should frighten all Texans is how very common our story is becoming.
Underground aquifers across the state have seen water levels drop over the past generation, in no small part due to over-pumping of groundwater. This represents a massive threat, not just to the people, plants and animals that depend on that water, but also to rivers and streams across the state.
According to the Texas Water Development Board, parts of the Trinity Aquifer have been hard-hit over the past 20 years, especially in the Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco areas. In West Texas, most naturally flowing springs see reduced flow for at least part of the year. And outside Austin, the iconic Jacob’s Well swimming hole has already declined to a trickle this year.
Water in Texas is connected. Nearly a third of the water in Texas’ rivers and streams originates underground. It bubbles to the surface through springs like the ones on our family’s land. Thirteen of the rivers that make their way to the Texas coast originate as such headwater springs, many on private land in the Hill Country.
The groundwater beneath our family’s ranch is legally our private property. But we recognize that an enormous ecosystem of families, communities and species relies on it. So we work hard to conserve, to be responsible stewards of this precious, irreplaceable resource with which we’ve been blessed.
If everyone approached groundwater in this way, stewardship would create sustainability. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Texas needs to figure out how to protect Texans who are trying to do the right thing.
More than that, as a state, we need to think about how we can manage groundwater in a way that will keep surface water flowing. Unfortunately, this year’s legislative session will soon come to an end, and helpful legislation is languishing.
House Bill 2652 would create an advisory board of key state officials to look specifically at the connections between surface water and groundwater and whether the state needs to do more to protect the latter. But the bill was lodged in the House Calendars Committee for more than a month, unable to get a key floor vote. That crucial delay killed the bill, so leaders need to look at other ways to effectively and holistically manage water resources.
The heat of the Texas summer will soon blanket the state. Where will water come from if wells begin to dry up? It’s essential that the state convene landowners, local officials, environmental stewards, scientists and other stakeholders as soon as possible to address Texas’ coming groundwater crisis.
We can, and we must, save Texas’ free-flowing springs and the groundwater resources. All Texans depend on them.
David K. Langford is a former chief executive of the Texas Wildlife Association, former member of the Environmental Flows Advisory Committee appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, and former member of the board of the Region L Groundwater Management Area. He is currently a member of the Headwaters Alliance, a coalition of Hill Country landowners advocating for spring flow protection. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor and you just might get published.