Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment and Research Professor of Geography at Texas State University-San Marcos, recently said San Antonio cannot “build its way” to future water security and advised leaders to intensify conservation and habitat protection efforts even as it seeks new sources of water. Sansom praised the City of San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan, in which voters have approved three measures since 2000 to invest more than $225 million to purchase conservation easements over sensitive, undeveloped land in the aquifer recharge zone. He warned that disappearing ranch land and springs flows threaten fragile ecosystems that ultimately impact vital groundwater and surface water sources for fast-growing urban populations. Sansom made his comments at the “Water Forum III: Our Water, Our Future” program organized by the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum at the Pearl Stable last week.  The following article echoes those warnings from the perspective of one of the state’s best known outdoors advocates.

David K. Langford

David K. Langford tells an eloquent story about his family’s longstanding connection to the land, and about a problem he is facing that is bigger than even he can deal with. With an earnestness that reveals his passion, Langford describes how his ranch’s natural springs and creeks that are so vital to the health and diversity of his land are being jeopardized by an external threat over which he has little to no control. Many of you may have heard Langford tell his story, and some of you may be living a story similar to his. It goes like this:

Long ago, in fact, some seven generations ago, Langford’s ancestors settled where he lives today – on his family’s part of the original 13,000 acre ranch near Comfort, Texas. Over the generations, through one family’s continuous and enlightened management, the land has flourished. Over those many years, his predecessors developed a love of the land and honed the skills of land stewardship that today make Langford rightfully proud of his family ranch’s success. For years, he has shared his land stewardship acumen and passion with others through his involvement as one of the Texas Wildlife Association’s original and continuing leaders, and through his many other activities.

The creeks and streams add important value to Langford’s land and the surrounding Hill Country. They are not only essential for his ranching and hunting enterprises, but also for sustaining the wildlife habitat that creates a complete and healthy eco-system that makes his land so productive, and which features in his well-known photography. His land, he says, is but a tile in a greater mosaic that makes up the Texas Hill Country, a land of diverse landscapes, wildlife, and communities that prosper from the bounty and beauty the land bestows on us all.

But, Langford says, his family’s wells and springs are dropping precipitously – not just from the recent drought, but from overuse of the groundwater sources that supply them. And when groundwater dries up, so do the creeks and streams that are fed by it, and so forth down the whole riparian system. It is a pattern of loss that we have been seeing for a long time, but only now are we realizing its increased rate of acceleration due to the fragmentation of Texas ranch land and the resulting draw on our aquifers. As good as his family may be at stewarding their land, and at keeping their water use within the carrying capacity of the land, he is being undermined by the harmful actions of others who have not been restrained in their use of available groundwater.

The resulting loss of groundwater, and thus spring and stream flow, is imperiling all the benefits that flow from their land. It is destroying the value Langford and his extended family have built over generations, and it is also negatively affecting all of the land around them, including the communities downstream. And, it is happening all across the Hill Country.

Langford’s family alone can do almost nothing to prevent or alleviate these problems. But together, with others who also acknowledge the threat to our aquifers, they have a fighting chance at restoring a balance to our state’s use of groundwater.

Water is life to a landowner, but our water is being depleted and landowners can’t prevent it by acting alone. Photo of Block Creek taken by David K. Langford about 150 yards from his home on the Hillingdon Ranch at sunrise. To see more photography by David, visit his website: www.westernphotographycompany.com

When I heard Langford tell his story recently, he was speaking at a fundraiser for Protect Our Water Rights Texas, a new group that has formed to protect our limited groundwater resources and balance competing groundwater rights for the good of everyone.

Protect Our Water Rights Texas is a non-partisan organization that believes protecting groundwater is too big an issue to be left solely to politicians. Members believe in the rights of individual landowners, and that the use of our limited groundwater assets needs to be sensibly and appropriately regulated to remain in balance with the available water in our aquifers. Unreasonable, over-exploitation of groundwater must be stopped for the good of Texas.

Protect Our Water Rights Texas is working for thoughtful changes in the management of our groundwater conservation districts, in our legislature, and in our laws. They are also working to elect leaders who understand the big-picture issues related to groundwater depletion, and who will use science-based tools and proven land stewardship methods to help manage these limited resources. Protect Our Water Rights Texas will actively enter the political arena with the Public’s interest in mind by supporting candidates and legislation to defend our groundwater rights.

Langford recommends landowners take these actions to protect and preserve their groundwater:

  • Implement improved water management and conservation practices as key elements of your own land management efforts.
  • Support conservation initiatives that not only conserve land, but also water resources.
  • Work with other landowners and the general public to increase their awareness of the threats against our groundwater.
  • Support candidates who will protect our groundwater at the Groundwater District, County, and State levels.
  • Communicate your concerns to your elected officials at all levels.
  • Support organizations such as Protect Our Water Rights Texas, which is working to protect landowners’ groundwater property rights through enlightened science-based regulation and legislative actions.

Terry Tull is the co-founder of Protect Our Water Rights Texas. This article originally appeared at Plateau, Land and Wildlife and is reprinted by permission.

San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.