The case for planning and conservation in the Texas Hill Country is clear when we think about water resources, scenic beauty and quality of life. However, since economic benefits are often used to argue for growth at all costs, it is also important to analyze the economic value of conservation activities and existing natural landscapes. Measuring the economic benefits of thoughtful growth and conservation policies can be challenging — how does one measure the dollar value of a clear creek or a nearby network of hiking trails? We also seek to find a rightful place for economics within a larger conversation about what we value in our communities. The studies found on this page take a look a variety of related topics such as the value of parks, the cost of infrastructure, the economic effects of tourism and how investing in land conservation pays off.
Some key findings from existing studies on planning economics include:
Investing in land and rewarding landowners to take care of land is a smart investment for long-term water needs. Far less expensive than massive industrial infrastructure, taking care of water catchment areas (watersheds) will provide natural infrastructure for capturing, cleansing and storing the water we need for future generations. Learn more from the Ecosystem Market Place.
The lake dropped to its third lowest level in recorded history this week. It is currently sitting just below 630 feet. The Lake Travis Coalition, which compiled Thursday's report, found that when the lake falls below 661 feet, there's a big hit to those who rely on the water. See KVUE story here.
"But, while my concern with sprawling growth patterns was rooted in their effect on the landscape, on the environment, and on severely compromised populations left behind, Chuck is all about the money. As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags." More from Kaid Benfield.
Cost of Community Services (COCS): Studies focused on the relationships between residential and commercial growth, agricultural land use, conservation and a community’s bottom line.
County Impact Fee Table - A state-by-state comparison of counties’ ability to levy impact fees. Many other states allow counties to charge developers to cover the real cost of expanding infrastructure and services (2008).
Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 2005-10 - A 10-county regional study by the Capital Area Economic Development District promoting prosperity and economic equity achieved through diversified business development, balanced growth and improved mobility (2005).
Lake Travis Economic Impact Report - Lake Travis Coalition, Setember, 2011.
The Impact of Greenways on Property Values: Evidence from Austin, Texas - A report on the benefit of green spaces for property values in Austin (2005).
Parkland and Open Space in the Hill Country - A report by Texas Center for Policy Studies (2001).
SH 130 Corridor Watershed Economics - A presentation developed for Envision Central Texas that discusses development alternatives designed to protect watersheds in a five-county study area (2006).
Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet - The economic and tax-base benefits of land conservation.
The Economic Benefits of Natural Goods and Services - A report written for the Piedmont Environmental Council
The Economic and Tax-Based Benefits of Land Conservation - An informative Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet
Agricultural Sustainability and Smart Growth - A report that discusses strategies for preserving urban-influenced farmland (2001).
Assessing the Wealth of Nature - A guideline to using economic studies to promote land conservation over sprawl.
Conservation:An Investment That Pays A discussion about the economic benefits of parks and open space in urban areas from the Trust for Public Land (2009).
The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation – A longer report from the Trust for Public Land that covers the economic benefits of farmland preservation and forests in addition to parks and open space (2007).
“The Wealth of Nature” - A chapter from Rutgers University economist Paul Gottlieb’s forthcoming book on regional planning that discusses the challenges of measuring quality of life and economic benefits of planning activities and the push toward regional planning in New Jersey.
The Proximate Principle – A paper on the impact of parks, open space and water features on residential property values from a professor at Texas A&M (2004).
Nature Tourism in the Lone Star State – A report on the economic benefits of nature-driven tourism from the State Task Force on Texas Nature Tourism.
Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails and Greenway Corridors – A resource book developed for the National Park Service that discusses property values, expenditures and economic benefits of greenway preservation, among other topics (1995).
Getty Institute Report on Heritage Economics – A report from the Getty Conservation Institute discussing the role of cultural heritage in economic analysis.
New Issue Papers: Exploring Environmental Markets Blog from the USDA covering a range of environmental and conservation related issues in America
Gund Institute for Ecological Economics - AAcademics and practitioners working together to develop and implement new environmental policy and management techniques that benefit the environment and the economy, holistically and sustainably.
Texas State Parks – Natural Economic Assets - A 2008 study prepared by the state Comptroller discussing the economic value of Texas State Parks. Includes profiles of specific state parks and statistics on park attendance in addition to financial data.
The Texas Coalition for Conservation - A coalition that develops studies and information related to the economic benefits of Texas parks and land conservation.
Defenders of Wildlife Habitat Benefits Estimation Tool – A toolkit designed to help measure the economic benefits of wildlife habitat conservation.
Texas Land Use Trends - Information on the loss of agricultural land in Texas from Texas Land Trends, a partnership between the American Farmland Trust and the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
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In a series of three guest blogs, Sharlene Leurig, Water Program Director for Ceres, examines the details of Proposition 6, the water project financing measure approved by Texas voters on November 5th. Proposition 6 amends the Texas constitution to appropriate $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to seed a new water infrastructure loan fund directed to water supply projects included in the State Water Plan. Click here to read.
Across the Hill Country, other aquifers, which provide vital spring water for many rivers, are very low and many of their springs and seeps have dried up. These aquifer-fed springs are not only key to local ranchers, but to maintaining river flows in the upper Nueces, Guadalupe and Colorado river basins. Read full article by Mike Mecke in Ranch and Rural Living Magazine.
Second in five part series by Texas Tribune: "Like any natural resource, the precious groundwater that flows under Texas’ land does not follow political boundaries. The state is home to nine major and 21 minor aquifers, some of which stretch across the entire state and have segments with wildly different hydrologic properties. Yet at a time when thirsty cities and industries are clamoring for groundwater more than ever, the resource is regulated by nearly 100 entities drawn along political boundaries such as county lines, in part because groundwater is considered a private property right in Texas." Read more from Texas Tribune.
Bob Webster, a staunch advocate of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District tapped to fill vacancy on Board of Directors. Webster, the "public" at nearly all of the GCD meetings, is the host of The Garden Show on KTSA AM 550 San Antonio and serves as an advisory board member of the Hill Country Alliance. Learn more from the Boerne Star.
As we continue our outreach program to encourage night sky friendly lighting in the Hill Country, we are pulling Bill Wren away from his duties at the McDonald Observatory once again. Join us for a screening of the film The City Dark followed by a presentation by Bill Wren, Dec. 11 in Bee Cave and Dec. 12 in Mason. Learn more about protecting the night sky here.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is the only state agency with a dedicated sales tax. Under state law, a portion of the sales tax on sporting goods is meant to go for parks. But lawmakers consistently divert some of that money to balance the state budget. Read more from StateImpact.
The mayor of Del Rio told San Antonio Water System trustees Monday that his city would use every legal means to block a proposed plan to pipe billions of gallons of water from Southwest Texas to San Antonio. The proposal, made by the V.V. Water Co., would send enough water for more than 150,000 households per year from drought-weary Val Verde County to SAWS by 2018. Red more from SA Express-News.
The mood was grim among folks from Bay City, Eagle Lake and other coastal communities today as the Lower Colorado River Authority board voted 8-7 in favor of an emergency proposal that will likely cut off water to rice farmers for the third year in a row. Read the full article from the Texas Observer. View Sierra Club's comments and press statement for the November 19 LCRA meeting.
Unlike surface water, which is owned and allocated by the state, groundwater belongs to the landowner and is regulated by nearly 100 different conservation districts across Texas, all of which set their own rules. The recent drought, along with major court decisions, has led to what some say is the most uncertain time in state history for those who depend on and manage groundwater in Texas. Read the first of this five-part series from the Texas Tribune.
The Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter recently released an updated version of its popular report on desalination of seawater and brackish groundwater and surface water. Desalination: Is It Worth Its Salt? is a basic primer on desalination written for the general public. The report explores the environmental, energy, and economic issues surrounding desalination and provides an overview of desalination activities in Texas. Read More
Now leading one of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s top five most-visited parks, Doug Cochran sees challenges and opportunities in managing Enchanted Rock State Natural Area’s 1,600-plus acres, which includes the iconic, 640-acre granite dome outcropping. Read the full article from the Fredericksburg Standard.
With groundwater and surface water treated as two independent water supplies under Texas law, it can be tricky to plan for our future generations. Citizen involvement is essential to achieving fair policy to sustain our water supply, a shared resource. A great place to learn is the Texas Living Waters Project - Tune in.
Attendees of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association's annual conference gathered at Austin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for a rainwater harvesting tour and discussion. The tour was hosted by Quality Control Steel who donated a 3000 gallon rainwater harvesting tank to the school. Learn More
The case for County Authority is made once again on the edge of Austin and Bee Cave. With little county power to deal with intensity and location of development, planning can be left to the utility. More than a hundred residents showed up at City Hall to express concerns about water, traffic and quality of life issues. Learn More
Americans favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, with 56 percent of respondents preferring smart growth neighborhoods over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation. Read More
Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to the state water plan is groundwater regulation. Almost every region in Texas plans to look below the surface for more water supplies. But many water suppliers, including those that serve Austin and San Antonio, are battling for the right to pump groundwater outside their own jurisdiction. Read more from the Texas Tribune.
The Texas Water Journal, an online, peer-reviewed journal about Texas water issues, will present the inaugural Texas Water Journal Forum, “Water, Politics and Drought,” Nov. 21 in Austin. Learn More
Environmental leaders call on water board to focus Prop 6 money on conservation and avoid projects harmful to rivers. “The State of Texas has consistently declined to implement common sense approaches to to maintain in-stream flows to the bays and estuaries - to the point where coastal ecosystems are now in peril,” said Annalisa Peace, Executive Director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.” Read the story from Environment Texas.
As water becomes scarcer in Central Texas and the thirst for it is on the rise, property owners in Rollingwood are requesting permission to drill a well and pump 913,400 gallons of water per year for their home. More from Hays Free Press.
“We’re dealing with so many water challenges in the state, particularly here in the Hill Country. There are a lot of unknowns like how to solve the complex water problems and rainwater harvesting is just a simple thing people can be doing to take the stress off of our aquifers.” Read the full Boerne Star article.
With what has been described as the worst drought in recorded history punishing parts of Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott found a way to keep watering his yard without risking fines or incurring huge monthly bills: He drilled his own well. Austin has no power to stop landowners from drilling water underneath their own terrain in pro-property-rights Texas. It can only monitor the proliferation of private wells, which Jason Hill, an Austin Water Utility spokesman, said officials are doing “vigorously.” More from the Texas Tribune
Henly is not so much a town as a collection of farmers and ranchers along U.S. 290 between Dripping Springs and Johnson City. Community life revolves around volunteer fire department barbecues and services at the Henly Baptist Church. The unincorporated town, which has more livestock than people, doesn’t have so much as a traffic light or a gas station. More from Statesman.com.
Texas Green Network is hosting an event in Austin, November 21st to examine next steps related to Prop 6. What does this mean for conservation? How do these funds get prioritized? How does this affect the business community? Details
“Parks and recreation won big on the ballot this week,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “At a time when many parks are suffering and natural areas are quickly being eaten up by sprawl, millions of Texans put their money where their mouth is and made a big investment in green spaces, water quality, ball fields, bike trails and in our overall quality of life.” Read the full story.
Scenic Texas announces the appointment of three new Hill Country board members. The new appointments are Kathleen Krueger, Former Mayor Pro-Tem, New Braunfels; Paul Robert Goebel, Associate Dean at Texas Tech University, Lubbock; and Chris Cornwell, former PepsiCo Food Scientist, Canyon Lake. Learn More
Texans overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday to jump-start financing for water projects in the state: Proposition 6. The plan will take $2 billion in surplus state money (from the Rainy Day Fund) to start a low-interest loan program for water projects in Texas. The measure had widespread support from both sides of the aisle as well as business and environmental groups. It passed with over 73 percent of the vote. More from State Impact.
It might have been a clear, crisp fall day in Boerne, but inside the Boerne Civic Center it was raining a solid schedule of rainwater harvesting information at the 4th annual Rainwater Revival. This Hill Country Alliance (HCA) event brought together a full day’s schedule of rainwater experts and professionals to teach and demonstrate a sure way to end all your water woes. Read the full story in the Rivard Report.
The new CAMPO website features a pretty bluebonnet-lined Hill Country road on the cover, what are we doing to protect this vision? A new video featuring CAMPO leaders kicks off a new public input vehicle - Mind Mixer. What’s important to you as we grow this region? Quality of life, clean water, natural resource protection, open spaces, rail and bike options? Let CAMPO know.
The choice for cities facing water shortages now or in the future is clear: invest in expensive new water supplies or invest in programs to reduce water use, including outdoor water use. Several smart Texas cities chose the latter. San Antonio Water System provides rebates to customers who agree to reduce their turf grass and to replace it with plants from an approved drought-tolerant plant list. More from texaslivingwaters.org.
Now is the time because current enhanced tax incentives expire Dec 31. Rules regarding amount of the deduction and the number of years you can take the deduction are about to change. Contact your local land trust for more information. Learn about conservation easements and land trusts working in the Hill Country here.
December 5 in Wimberley – Open House to discuss four-lane divided parkway between Wimberley and San Marcos - Details
December 6 in Uvalde - Star Party at Fort Inge - Details
December 16-18 in San Antonio - Clean Air through Energy Efficiency Conference and Business Expo - Details
The 2014 HCA Calendar is on sale!
Imagine a place where vibrant communities draw strength from their natural assets to sustain their quality of life. A place where citizens care about protecting the special qualities of a region – their region. A place where people and partners band together to envision a better economic future, tackle shared challenges and care for the natural, scenic, and recreational resources that define the place they call home.
~This is a Conservation Landscape
Helpful Mapping Resources - Beautiful and informative maps of the region to print and share.
HCA Dynamic Mapping Tool - Interactive online GIS mapping tool