Treasured Hill Country river faces an uncertain future
By Clay Carrington
The Texas Hill Country is home to rugged and pastoral terrain with water-carved canyons and steep hillsides adorned by oaks and junipers. Limestone features capture water underground and nourish life above. The plateau’s main underground water resource, the Edwards Aquifer, serves as the primary water source for San Antonio and other area water consumers.
Here, the Blanco River flows for 87 miles through three counties, taking its name from white limestone riverbanks and streambeds of the Hill Country. The Blanco is the centerpiece of some of the region's most beautiful scenery and it represents a significant water resource for Hill Country populations.
In fact, the lush scenery and abundant water of the Blanco River is one of the reasons the Texas Hill Country faces a troublesome future. Rapid population growth, fueled in part by incoming retirees and workers opting to commute to Austin and San Antonio in exchange for a small-town life amid natural beauty are among the reasons seven Hill Country counties were among the nation’s fastest growing between 1990 and 2000. San Antonio itself, already one of the 10 largest American cities, continues to grow.
Recognizing that unsustainable management of surface and groundwater, habitat fragmentation and other factors associated with the plateau’s rapid population growth were threatening the Hill Country’s water resources and natural diversity, The Nature Conservancy took action. In cooperation with other public and private partners, the Conservancy in 2003 launched the Blanco River Project to serve as a model demonstrating methods to ensure the sustainability and quality of the Hill Country’s water supplies and to protect the fullness of life within the Edwards Plateau.
At the heart of the project’s success has been a common belief among its participants: loving the Hill Country means caring about its future. The goal of the Blanco River Project is to galvanize stakeholders within the watershed to take up the cause of conservation. Working within communities, the Conservancy seeks to protect the lands and waters of the region through cooperative partnerships and conservation easements.
Other strategies include sharing land- and water-management and helping area landowners secure financial assistance for conservation projects.
To learn more about this and other Conservancy freshwater-conservation projects, visit nature.org/texas.May 19, 2011