Places We Protect

Pedernales River Project

Texas

Rapids along rugged section of river with treeline the background.
PEDERNALES RIVER PROJECT The Pedernales River watershed stretches 812,000 acres. © Don Schulte

The Pedernales River is a Central Texas water system that supports human and wildlife communities.

The Pedernales River rises from springs in Kimble County and winds through more than 105 miles of Texas Hill Country before flowing into the Colorado River at Lake Travis.

Named after the Spanish word for the flint rocks that line its riverbed, the Pedernales is an important Central Texas water system that supports a vast array of human and wildlife communities on its path. Although the Pedernales River still sustains many historic, large-scale ranching and agricultural operations, portions of the watershed have become parceled into smaller recreational ranches and home sites.

At least six people sit on large limestone rocks strewn throughout a clear blue river at sunset.
Recreation Destination The Pedernales River is a popular recreational spot in the Texas Hill Country. © Susan Vineyard

The river crosses through five protected areas, including the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, before its confluence with the Colorado River, where it provides water for consumption and recreation for citizens of Austin and surrounding communities. In addition to its springs, the Pedernales River is also fed by a series of seeps and perennial, tributary streams that are important not only as water contributors, but also as habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species. These hidden and scenic corridors add to the area’s natural heritage and allure, helping draw outdoor recreation and wildlife enthusiasts.

In many ways, the beauty of the area indirectly poses the greatest threat to the Pedernales watershed. The Hill Country is one of the most desirable locations in Texas, and the rate of new home construction is rising dramatically. If the area experiences the rapid growth and development that some project, the Pedernales River may face a number of challenges. These future challenges could include non-point source pollution, unsustainable surface and groundwater withdrawal, a loss of plant and animal diversity and drastically altered fire regimes.

A turquoise blue river winds its way through heavy green brush.
Aquatic Biodiversity The Pedernales River is home to many endemic species, like the Pedernales River springs salamander and the Guadalupe bass. © Gregg L Swanson Jr
A cluster of large limestone boulders with holes eroded by water.
Seeps and Crevices Limestone seeps along the Pedernales provide unique habitat for biodiversity. © Natalia Silyanov
Aquatic Biodiversity The Pedernales River is home to many endemic species, like the Pedernales River springs salamander and the Guadalupe bass. © Gregg L Swanson Jr
Seeps and Crevices Limestone seeps along the Pedernales provide unique habitat for biodiversity. © Natalia Silyanov

TNC is joining with partners to conserve the diverse natural heritage within the 812,000-acre Pedernales River watershed while helping the area communities find ways to live productively and sustainably in this delicate environment. TNC scientists are working with the River Systems Institute at Texas State University San Marcos to better understand the function and condition of the Pedernales River, as well as its tributaries and the wildlife within them. These studies will reveal the inventory and status of aquatic species, as well as water quality, river flow and habitat conditions. This data will add to the existing body of scientific knowledge and help design effective conservation strategies to protect and conserve the river and its associated systems. 

The Pedernales River Project will help interested businesses, landowners and other stakeholders practice ecologically sustainable land management that conserves natural resources while maintaining the aesthetic and economic benefits of their property. By distributing printed materials such as a riparian habitat manual and hosting landowner field days and workshops covering a number of topics, TNC can share best practices of land and water stewardship. These practices include the application of prescribed fire, native and exotic deer population management and invasive species control. For instance, the careful use of prescribed fire can help address woody plant encroachment and create better habitat for wildlife and a healthier, better-balanced ecosystem for humans.

Clear waters tumble over porous limestone rocks as the sun sets.
Protecting Land and Water As Central Texas' population continues to rise, protecting this delicate ecosystem will be critical for both the people and wildlife that depend upon it. © Erin Newman-Mitchell/TNC Photo Contest 2019

TNC's Edwards Plateau fire crew shares equipment and expertise with area landowners and local burn co-operatives and conducts prescribed burns on private lands in cooperation with partners. Controlling exotic and white-tailed deer populations not only benefits the land, but also ensures sustained numbers for area hunters. Controlling invasive plant and animal species ensures the vitality and survival of native species that are integral to the overall health of the area. Together, these strategies help maintain not only the ecological integrity of the area, but its rural character, as well. 

The continued conservation of this healthy watershed is a vision shared by many people. By collaborating on our common goals, TNC will add to the work of private landowners; local, state and federal land and water agencies; and other non-governmental organizations in the watershed. By working now to plan for the future, TNC will strive to be a contributing member of the local community and to help ensure that the Pedernales River watershed remains one of Texas’s natural treasures.