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Livestock Weekly

March 8, 2012

High Court Rules That Landowner Rights Also Include Groundwater

By Colleen Schreiber

AUSTIN — Do landowners own the water beneath their land? For most Texas landowners that’s a “well, duh” kind of question. However, that very question has only recently been definitively answered.

Last week the Texas Supreme Court handed landowners one of the most significant wins in recent memory. In The Edwards Aquifer Authority and the State of Texas, Petitioners, v. Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel, Respondents, the court ruled that landowners have an ownership interest in groundwater in place, and that the water beneath the land cannot be taken for public use without adequate compensation as guaranteed by Article I, Section 17(a) of the Texas Constitution.

The unanimous opinion authored by Justice Nathan Hecht says that “Groundwater rights are property rights subject to constitutional protection, whatever difficulties may lie in determining adequate compensation for a taking.”

The case, involving Bexar County landowners Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel, in part, is about whether action by the Edwards Aquifer Authority to issue a permit limiting their pumping from the Edwards Aquifer to 14 acre-feet of water instead of the 700 acre-feet they asked for resulted in a “taking” of private property. The high court ruled that the trial court had incorrectly concluded that the landowners did not have a constitutionally protected property right in their groundwater, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Austin-based attorney Paul Terrill, who represents Medina County pecan growers Glenn and JoLynn Bragg in another takings case, has been battling the EAA on this property rights ownership issue since 1998. Not surprisingly, he finds the ruling “very gratifying” and “absolutely fantastic.” Terrill, who has won the only takings judgment against the EAA for the Braggs (the case is now on appeal), said the Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that landowners whose pumping rights have been taken away or severely restricted have a potential remedy through a takings suit.

“My view has always been that groundwater is a property right and that the water belongs to the landowner. It can be regulated like other types of property, but if that regulation prevents a landowner from using their water, the government must compensate the landowner for taking their property,” remarks Terrill.

Russ Johnson, of McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore, LLP, the lead attorney who successfully argued the Guitar case before the Texas Supreme Court, also applauds the Day decision.

“It was the correct decision. I think the court got it right in virtually all respects,” Johnson says. “In my view this doesn’t change the law. It confirms what most of us have felt the law was anyway.”

One of the key points that the court made clear is that the ruling does not stop a district’s ability to regulate, and in fact the court explicitly recognized the need to regulate, pointing out that, “In many areas of the state, and certainly in the Edwards Aquifer, demand exceeds supply. Regulation is essential to its conservation and use.”

“The Supreme Court, I thought, went to great lengths to make it clear that the ruling did not prevent regulation and that reasonable regulation under the Penn Central Doctrine, even if it diminishes the value of the landowner’s property, is not necessarily compensable,” remarks Johnson.

There are some, however, who believe the ruling means that the EAA will have to change the way it does business and possibly even revamp its regulations. Greg Ellis, former general manager of the EAA and the former executive director of the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, opines that the ruling could potentially make things much more complicated for all groundwater conservation districts. He bases that opinion, in part, on the fact that the court writes, “A landowner cannot be deprived of all beneficial use of the groundwater below his property merely because he did not use it during a historical period.”

“That is going to make life for the EAA pretty tough,” Ellis opines, “because that’s pretty much exactly what the legislature said.” Ellis was referring specifically to the Edwards Aquifer Authority Act, the legislation governing the EAA.

“The purpose of a district, in my opinion, is to prevent harm that the rule of capture would allow and to try to the best of their ability to create sustainable aquifer production. The goal as much as possible should be one of sustainability.”

Terrill says that Ellis’ view is too regulation-friendly and landowner-unfriendly.

“The EAA and other groundwater districts can regulate groundwater production, but if they go too far, they need to compensate landowners for the loss of their property. That is not only fair, the constitution requires it.”

Johnson accuses Ellis and others of using scare-mongering tactics, telling people that this ruling now means landowners have the right to pump aquifers to extinction.

“The groundwater district clique that thinks ownership means the end of the world because they’ll be flooded with litigation and driven out of business or that we’re back to the law of the biggest pump is such a misrepresentation of the decision,” Johnson insists.

“I believe the exact opposite is true. Until last Friday, when clients called me up, I would tell them to get a permit, drill a well and start using their water,” Johnson admitted. “Today I can confidently tell them that they are going to have a protectable right to their groundwater even if they don’t use it.”

Ellis counters, and not surprisingly, it comes back to water marketing.

“Well if you’re T. Boone Pickens and you’re 70-something years old, and you say in an open forum that the plan for water for 50 years doesn’t interest me because I’m not going to be around — then to me that means he wants to sell as much water as he possibly can today.”

Ellis contends that the state has finally put together a model and a mechanism that recognizes that there is a limited supply of groundwater in the state. Once a GCD establishes its limit, then according to Ellis it is the district’s job to figure out a way to stay below the limit, and he contends that there are only two ways to do that.

“Either stop issuing new permits or keep issuing new permits but make current permit holders cut back in order to make room for the new guy. I promise you, people are unhappy with both results.

“The question that every district is going to have to answer now,” he insists, “is which method creates the least likelihood of liability to the district if there is a taking.”

Johnson disagrees.

“The Supreme Court made it clear that they were not ruling that regulation was a taking per se,” he reiterates. “Instead, they really made it clear that by ruling landowners owned groundwater in place they were not undoing the authority of the government to regulate that right. What they were saying correctly was if the government took that right away altogether or severely restricted that right with no good justification, then they could be liable for a taking.”

Ellis and the EAA have always contended that this kind of ruling means the EAA will now be flooded with takings litigation, but again, Johnson wholeheartedly disagrees.

“They’re not going to be deluged with a tsunami of takings claims. The first thing is this decision doesn’t change the law; it clarifies the law — that landowners have a property right that’s protectable.”

He went on to explain that for purposes of “takings” or inverse condemnation, there are a series of “statutes of limitations” that can apply. He also notes that unlike every other groundwater district in Texas, the EAA has what he referred to as a “unique need for extraordinary restrictions” on the exercise of a landowner’s groundwater right. What he’s referring to is the fact that the Edwards Aquifer almost solely supplies the water needed for nearly two million people as well as the criminal provisions the EAA has to abide by because of the Endangered Species Act.

“Those are pretty compelling problems that justify extraordinary or extensive restrictions,” Johnson insists.

In fact, Johnson opines that the only two places in the state where extraordinary restrictions on private property rights are probably constitutionally sustainable are in Harris and Galveston counties (in the subsidence district) and in the Edwards Aquifer region.

“Everywhere else the goal of conserving the resource doesn’t justify preventing people from exercising their right. That’s the fundamental problem that groundwater districts have. They would prefer to be in the ‘let’s conserve this for the future’ camp when the law says they have to recognize the right of their regulated community to produce the resource,” states Johnson.

Johnson also points to the court’s thoughtful analysis of Penn Central, pointing out that to win a regulatory takings case, the balancing analysis — involving a physical invasion of property which doesn’t apply in Day, as well as a deprivation of all economically beneficial use of property and interference with investment-backed expectations — must be considered. In short, what Johnson and others have implied is that to win an actual takings case against the EAA will be extremely difficult.

He acknowledges that there will likely be takings cases that come forth from Chapter 36 districts. In fact, he was about a week away from filing one such case against a district when the Day opinion was rendered. He’s hoping the district will now reconsider its actions.

“There are two types of groundwater districts that unless they change their behavior are going to get sued — those that have gone to historic users and said ‘We’ve done our planning process and we’re using too much water and we need to cut your water by a certain percent,’ and those districts that decide they have a cap that then decide they’re going to award all of that water to a group of historic users and everyone else gets zero. Those kinds of districts will find themselves in lawsuits,” Johnson insists.

More broadly, a district that limits permits for pumping simply for political reasons and/or to stop transport of water out of a district, or to keep landowners from selling their water out of a district, or a district that limits pumping or permit amounts based on something other than sound science may also be facing a takings claim in court.

Johnson notes that in the last legislative session lawmakers revised substantially the desired future conditions process and specifically directed groundwater districts to consider aspects of impacts on property owners and to also consider the total recoverable resources of the aquifer in making their DFC decisions. He’s hopeful now, given the Supreme Court decision and this change in the legislation, that groundwater districts will stop trying to reverse engineer their DFCs to meet their local objectives or pumping demands and prevent folks from producing groundwater when that groundwater is available for production.

The Day opinion also acknowledged the differences between Chapter 36 districts and the EAA, noting specifically that the EAA’s powers and duties are governed by the EAAA, not by chapter 36 of the Water Code. The EAAA does not refer to chapter 36.

How Chapter 36 districts are allowed to regulate is completely different from the EAA. Chapter 36 districts, for example, use several factors including groundwater production capability of the aquifer, well spacing, consideration of historic use, and a district’s approved management plan, while the EAA’s main focus in issuing permits is historic use and timely application for initial regular permits.

In the opinion the court talked at some length about the historic use provision, noting that the Authority argued that historical use is a sound method for establishing permit limits because it recognizes the investment of the landowner in developing that groundwater resource. The court, however, pointed out that “had the permit limitation been anticipated before the EAAA was passed, landowners would have been perversely incentivized to pump as much water as possible, even if not put to best use, to preserve the right to do so going forward.”

The court went on to say, “Neither the Authority nor the State has suggested a reason why the EAAA must be more restrictive in permitting groundwater use than Chapter 36, nor does the Act suggest any justification. But even if there were one, a landowner cannot be deprived of all beneficial use of the groundwater below his property merely because he did not use it during a historical period and supply is limited.”

The East case, known more commonly as the rule of capture, has long been considered the defining case in Texas groundwater law, and many water attorneys fighting for landowners’ rights hang their hat on East. The court, however, wrote that “No issue of ownership of groundwater in place was presented in East, and our decision implies no view of that issue. Instead, riparian law, which East invoked, governs users who do not own the water. Under that law, the railroad would have been liable even if East did not own the water in place. The railroad escaped liability, certainly not because East did own the water in place, but irrespective of whether he did.”

The court instead turned to a quote from the New York Court of Appeals decision in the 1866 Pixley v. Clark case: “An owner of soil may divert percolating water, consume or cut it off, with impunity. It is the same as land, and cannot be distinguished in law from land. So the owner of land is the absolute owner of the soil and of percolating water, which is a part of, and not different from, the soil. No action lies against the owner for interfering with or destroying percolating or circulating water under the earth’s surface.”

The court in Day wrote: “Whatever the New York court may have intended by this statement, we could have meant only that a landowner is the absolute owner of groundwater flowing at the surface from its well, even if the water originated beneath the land of another.”

The court also relied heavily on oil and gas law, noting that while there are differences, it was decided long ago that oil and gas are owned in place, “and we find no reason to treat groundwater differently.”

The Authority argued that oil and gas and water are so fundamentally different “in nature, use, and value that ownership rights in oil and gas should have no bearing in determining those in groundwater.”

The court disagreed, writing that, “Again, the issue is not whether there are important differences between groundwater and hydrocarbons; there certainly are. But we see no basis in these differences to conclude that the common law allows ownership of oil and gas in place but not groundwater.”

Ed McCarthy, of Jackson, Sjoberg, McCarthy & Townsend, LLP, a seasoned water attorney representing the interests of landowners, points out that the Day ruling is important because we now have a definitive statement of the landowners’ rights in Texas common law and a legislative finding of groundwater ownership in place in favor of landowners. In the opinion, the court pointed to the Groundwater Conservation District Act of 1949, which later became Section 36.002 of the Water Code. The court then pointed to the amendment made to 36.002 during the last legislative session, in which lawmakers attempted to more clearly define the ownership issue.

McCarthy also believes that the court did a good job of articulating a distinction between oil and gas law and groundwater law and how we should not look at the strict construction of oil and gas law in terms of permitting oil and gas development with respect to limiting groundwater permitting. For example, the Authority argued that groundwater cannot be treated like oil and gas because “landowners have no correlative rights, not because their rights are different.”

The court, however, said that argument fails.

The court also clearly recognized that groundwater is different from oil and gas in that it is a renewable natural resource but one that must be managed for current and future needs.

The court wrote: “Groundwater regulation must take into account not only historical usage but future needs, including the relative importance of various uses, as well as concerns unrelated to use, such as environmental impacts and subsidence.”

Johnson agrees that it makes sense that the court looked to oil and gas law guidance because the principle common law ownership rule applies to both minerals and water. However, not every water attorney agrees with that line of thinking.

“I personally think that’s a mistake,” Ellis said. “If everyone had the same goal for their groundwater like almost everyone has for their oil and gas, then that would be appropriate. We can measure an oil and gas field and calculate very closely how much can be produced from that field and then we can divide up how much everyone gets paid.

“If everyone wanted to sell their groundwater we might be able to do something like that for groundwater, though remember that the amount of groundwater changes, maybe on a daily basis. The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t want to sell their groundwater; they want to keep it and conserve it for the future. Now, under this ruling I’m afraid they’re not given that opportunity.”

Ellis went on to contend that because the court has ruled that the landowner owns the water in place, that somehow makes the powers of the groundwater districts null and void and we revert back to the old law of the biggest pump because once again “a neighbor can now pump your groundwater out from under your property and there is nothing you can do about it.”

However, it seems clear that groundwater should be regulated considering other factors, that the court is only tying groundwater to oil and gas in the actual ownership issue in that groundwater, like oil and gas, is a property right held in place. Nowhere in the opinion, as Johnson and McCarthy point out, did the court say that groundwater should be regulated like oil and gas. In fact, the court went out of its way to make clear that groundwater districts can still regulate and that local control is the preferred method for groundwater management.

Terrill, too, is of the opinion that the court was right to tie groundwater law to oil and gas, and he uses oil and gas case law to counter Ellis’ and the EAA’s insistence that because of Day there will now be a deluge of takings cases coming forth. He pointed to the fact that the ownership issue in place in oil and gas law for almost 100 years has not had a deluge of takings cases resulting from oil and gas regulation.

Ellis counters that the only reason there hasn’t been a pile of taking cases in oil and gas is because of the pooling rule.

“That (pooling) won’t work for groundwater. We can’t do the same kind of calculation for available water in the aquifer that we do for oil and gas. And, again, we have people who have no intention of selling; they don’t want to see the aquifer emptied out; they want it sustained or maintained as long as possible, so that regulation just doesn’t work for groundwater.”

Ellis also contends that had the court decided not to follow the oil and gas model, had they ruled that there is not a vested right until the groundwater is captured, there wouldn’t be this mountain of takings litigation, which Johnson, McCarthy and Terrill all stress is only a perceived threat at best. That perceived threat, however, was championed last week by the editorial board of the Austin American Statesman in their opinion piece, entitled “Groundwater Ruling Potentially Unleashes Geyser of Future Cases.”

Terrill calls the EAA’s “Chicken Little ‘the sky is falling’” argument and their talk about the horrible consequences that are likely to come from this ruling “nonsense.” He points out, as did the court in its opinion, that out of the 1100-something permits issued by the EAA, only three takings cases were filed – Day, Bragg and another that was settled by the EAA.

Terrill’s Bragg case will most likely be the first groundwater-related takings case to come before the Texas Supreme Court. In 2011 the Braggs received a trial court judgment for a taking against the Edwards Aquifer Authority for roughly $730,000. That case is now on appeal to the San Antonio Court of Appeals, and Terrill says he’s in the process of briefing it now.

However, Terrill points out just how difficult takings cases are to win. Not only that, but these kinds of cases typically carry on for years and years, which means to persevere takes deep pockets.

“Takings cases are hard to win. The deck is stacked in favor of the government, and few lawyers are willing to take on these difficult cases. That’s why you don’t see ads in the phone book or on late night TV from lawyers clamoring to take on the government on a contingency fee basis.”

The court wrote: “While the expense of such litigation cannot be denied, groundwater regulation need not result in takings liability. The Legislature’s general approach to such regulation has been to require that all relevant factors be taken into account. The Legislature can discharge its responsibility under the Conservation Amendment without triggering the Takings Clause. But the Takings Clause ensures that the problems of a limited public resource — the water supply — are shared by the public, not foisted onto a few. We cannot know, of course, the extent to which the Authority’s fears will yet materialize, but the burden of the Takings Clause on government is no reason to excuse its applicability.”

McCarthy points out that Day does not offer a roadmap per se as to how to win a takings case. He explains that in a federal takings case, to have an actual takings, the landowners have to prove a loss of the use of the property. Texas law, however, is unique in that the law allows a takings claim for that same provision but in addition there is a provision in Article 1, Section 17 that talks about injury to the property right. That provision, McCarthy explains, allows a landowner to claim damages for less than a whole taking.

“What has not been developed, and what’s not clear to me, is whether the court is going to allow a takings claim to be brought forth if a groundwater district grants a landowner a permit for irrigation use but won’t do the same for municipal use.”

Johnson agrees that some uncertainty remains, in that the court did not really offer any guidance as to how much regulation is too much.

“Where that line falls for each individual district is uncertain at this point.”

McCarthy says that each takings case will have to be decided on its own merit.

“There is certainly a cleaner set of criteria in the Edwards Aquifer Authority Act because of the detailed provisions and the detailed legislation,” comments McCarthy. “What Chapter 36 districts don’t have is 70 pages of very detailed, very specific, focused legislation. They have a bunch of broad parameters and statements.”

“I want to be clear that I don’t think that GCDs are going to be sued because they are adopting unreasonable regulations. I think they’re going to be sued because someone is going to think that whatever regulation they adopt is unreasonable,” remarks Ellis. “We already have people arguing that we should pump aquifers to extinction, and not allowing that means some landowners will file a takings claim.”

He continues, “I think we’ll probably have to see five or six such cases reach the Supreme Court from different appellate courts before we come up with a better definition of how to work that Penn Central Balancing Test — in terms of what’s appropriate and what’s not. The Bragg case has already gone through that balancing test, and the court found the district liable for $700,000-plus in damages. If that is upheld by the Fourth Court of Appeals, I don’t know where that money comes from or how the EAA could continue to pay out damages like that.

“The Chapter 36 districts who are all defining their own regulatory schemes are almost certainly going to be tested,” Ellis continues. “I think it will take several districts across the state to determine what the limits are. There may be no path for not getting sued.”

McCarthy reminds that to win a takings case will by no means be a slam dunk.

“Even if you win, it doesn’t mean you’ll strike it rich. You have to prove devaluation and loss,” he reminds.

He also points out that there are other “perils” associated with a takings case, including the right of reimbursements of attorneys’ fees for the district if they win. That almost obscure point at the tail end of the opinion is one that Terrill has issues with as well.

“There remains a provision that makes it mandatory for a groundwater district to recover attorneys’ fees. Yet, if the landowner wins, the landowner doesn’t get the same rights to recover attorneys’ fees.”

McCarthy says he wishes the court had said more about the need for good science in groundwater management, though he’s pleased that the court recognized that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all kind of regulating scheme.

“There will be bumps in the road in a couple of places,” McCarthy admits. “There will be someone who files a crazy lawsuit, and some of the districts will go nuts and in a knee-jerk reaction those districts will want to change a bunch of things.”

He predicts that during the next legislative session groundwater districts will try to find a legislative fix around Day.

“They’ll be scrambling like hell to get legislation passed to give them powers they want to think they have. “Hopefully, the courts will dispose of the crazy lawsuits,” he continues, “and we will continue to have the good guidance that we need with property rights regulation like we’ve always had.

“I know there are a variety of feelings about that, but it’s like zoning ordinances — they’re there for a reason. The EAA has created a very good market; things are working very well. I don’t think that’s going to blow up.”

Johnson opines that the court ruling most likely will make it easier for water transactions to occur, and he views that as a positive for the state.

“Bottom line, the state needs to develop a massive amount of water to meet its future needs. I think we all know that surface water is going to be very hard to develop in the future, so what we have is an opportunity to put to beneficial use a resource that is underutilized in some areas — that’s not true in the Ogallala and the Edwards — but believe me, in the vast majority of the Carrizo Wilcox and the vast majority of the Gulf Coast Aquifer and a substantial portion of the Trinity, it’s underutilized. The reality is we need to manage the resource, but we can’t manage it in a way that puts it off limits for now in the hope that somehow it will be available in the future. What’s the point of that?”

Terrill says there will always be issues within the Day opinion that attorneys can and will argue about.

“What they can’t argue about anymore is this claim that there’s no property right in groundwater in place.”

“Ultimately, they came to the right conclusion,” remarks McCarthy. “The groundwater districts and the EAA and their attorneys may have won the battle on East, but we won the war.”

The EAA issued a press release with a statement from Luana Buckner, Chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board of Directors, saying that, “At this time, we are reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion in detail to further ascertain the implications it may or may not have for the continued effective management and protection of the Edwards Aquifer and the economic interests of those who rely on it as their water source.”

The statement went on to point out that the opinion affirms that the EAA has carried out its responsibilities appropriately and that they are awaiting further legal review of the opinion before commenting further.

Now Day and McDaniel will go back to the trial court and put on their taking evidence and attempt to recover damages from the EAA, a process that will itself take years to complete.

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“There are two schools of thought. One is we are not going to build our way out of this, and I’ve heard other people say we’re not going to conserve our way out of this. I have to take issue. I think we really are going to have to adopt as a citizenry a new water ethic in the way we think about and use water. And the way we look at our landscapes. And the way we value our large landscapes and understanding the role that they play in our water supply.” Read More

HCA's Certified Interpretive Guide Training Workshop Returns October 14-17 in San Antonio

Do you want to create meaningful experiences that last a lifetime? HCA is offering an Interpretive Guide Training workshop that will help you connect the minds and hearts of your audience to the beauty of nature and the mysteries of history. Register now, class size limited. Details

AgriLife Extension sets Living Waters Conference for August 19 in Junction

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will conduct the Living Waters Conference beginning at 8 a.m. Aug. 19 at the Texas Tech Junction Center, 254 Red Raider Lane in Junction. “This is a well-rounded program that centers on topics relating to watersheds, riparian areas and best management practices for managing cattle, horses and feral hogs along these fragile environmental areas.” Details

Plans for Texas 45 Southwest bring quest to document historical sites

“Environmentalists eye the proposed road’s path over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Fans of the tollway note how it would provide an alternative to congested roadways. History enthusiasts, though, see what’s not on the map. They see land that the Spanish first traveled in the late 1600s, that stagecoaches traversed beginning in the mid-1800s, and they worry that the proposed tollway — and the additional development it would likely bring — would erase that rich past. That little-heard concern about growth has prompted the Travis County Historical Commission to begin a survey of properties in Southwest Travis County.” Read more from Andra Lim at Statesman.com here.

How to Inspire Millions More Americans to Ride Bicycles

“Over the past five years we’re seeing an infrastructure revolution, a rethinking of our streets to accommodate more users — busways, public plazas, space for pedestrians and, of course, bike lanes,” said David Vega-Barachowitz of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “More protected bike lanes is one of the most important parts of this.” Read the full story from the Rivard Report here.

Proposed Truck Stop along the Llano River draws concerns

Hill Country conservationists including HCA have expressed concerns over a proposed Pilot Flying J truck stop to be constructed close to the North Llano River in Junction. “The South Llano Watershed Alliance (SLWA) is a non-profit organization of landowners and interested stakeholders whose mission is to preserve and enhance the South Llano River and adjoining watersheds by encouraging land and water stewardship through collaboration, education, and community participation. Since our inception in 2009, SLWA has partnered with other local, state, and federal agencies and organizations to develop and participate in programs that to date have brought in nearly $3 million in research and restoration efforts in the local community.” Read the SLWA letter of concern urging for more time for due diligence.

LCRA and PEC Award $25,000 to Old Blanco County Courthouse for Masonry Repair

The Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society will be able to repair masonry and stone on the building’s exterior, thanks to a $25,000 community development grant. The Lower Colorado River Authority and Pedernales Electric Cooperative provided the grant to repair and replace mortar and stone in critical areas of the old courthouse on Blanco’s downtown square. Details

Water Planners Focus on Bigger Texas, Not a Hotter One

After Texans overwhelmingly approved spending $2 billion in public funds on new water infrastructure projects last November, Republicans and Democrats alike hailed the state’s ability to solve its water woes in the wake of explosive growth and debilitating drought. But as state water planners prepare to spend that money and address Texas’ water needs in the coming decades, they are only planning for a bigger Texas — not a hotter one. More from the Texas Tribune.

Travis County attempts to guide surging growth in unincorporated areas

"One difficulty is that the county has little say in what ultimately gets built on unincorporated land." This issue is felt in Bexar, Kendall, Comal, Hays, Burnet, Bandera and all of the rapidly expanding counties throughout the Hill Country. Read the full story in the Austin American Statesman. Learn more about the County Authority issue here.

HCC Ruby Ranch – A Conservation Success

The Hill Country Conservancy (HCC) announces a new conservation easement. 747-acre Ruby Ranch, a historical property in Hays County, is the final piece of the puzzle that will result in over 10,000 acres of contiguous open space. As rapid development continues in the region, it has become harder and harder for families to keep lands together and intact. Like many ranching families, the Ruby’s felt the burden of these pressures. This property has been in the Ruby family since the 1930s. Read more from HCC.

Taller billboards could be coming to Texas

Billboards designed to get people’s attention could be getting taller. In a proposal the Texas Department of Transportation has rolled out, drivers on interstates, major roadways and rural areas could see signs as high as 65 feet tall. “It may seem like a small thing coming from a city, but it’s really a big deal and can really negatively impact your experience of Texas Hill Country,” said Katherine Romans with the Hill Country Alliance. Comments can be submitted through July 14th. Read the full story from KXAN. Learn more about Billboards in the Hill Country from HCA here.

GEAA making a difference in and around San Antonio

The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) has consistently opposed utility service contracts for new developments in the Edwards Aquifer watershed. Of particular concern are contracts for sewer service, which allow for much higher density development and have the potential to pollute the Aquifer with high volume sewage leaks. Find out how you can get involved and influence the upcoming SAWS board agenda, July 17th. Learn more from GEAA.

Who Stole the Water?

As the water crisis in Texas continues to escalate, it is becoming a topic of national interest. This article illustrates that the prospect of dried up springs, streams, and lakes in our Hill Country and the bays of Texas is provoking anger far and wide. One thing to note, “waste” is NOT permitted under the rule of capture, although the article alludes that it is. The author Paul Solotaroff, holds back nothing; ecology, water rights, politics, greed, all part of the story. Read more from Men’s Journal.

Rainwater harvesting communities find fertile ground in Hill Country

While traditional developers scramble for scarce water resources, sustainable development in the Hill Country is happening right under our noses. Several water-neutral projects incorporating rainwater harvesting systems are in progress and more are in the planning stages. With proper consideration and non-invasive infrastructure, the Hill Country gets enough rain even - in the worst drought year - to supply a home’s water needs. Local builder and The Hill Country Alliance’s own Paul Sumrall is featured in the following Austin American Statesman news story written by Andra Lin. Click here to read.

Here’s 5 Challenges to Texas Water That Might Surprise You

"Beyond those two big-ticket items — how to pay for water supplies and how to regulate water underground — there are some other smaller challenges the state faces when it comes to water. At a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, several state agencies told lawmakers about the water challenges they’re dealing with." Read more from State Impact.

Green Spaces Alliance Hires New Executive Director

Julia Murphy has been tapped as the next Executive Director of Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas. As the creator of the San Antonio Bikes program at the City of San Antonio's Office of Sustainability, Julia has managed a number of important initiatives as the city is changing its image from a fat city to a fit city and a stronger environmental conscience. Read more

Ensuring sufficient water supplies in Texas

As the current drought sweeping Texas and the Southwest continues, state leaders work to create rules and procedures for wisely administering the $2 billion in water infrastructure loan funds approved overwhelmingly by legislators and voters in 2013. Investments made through this program are critical to the future of Texas and will come none too soon, particularly those investments related to water conservation. Read more from the Houston Chronicle.

Comprehensive rating system released for developing sustainable landscapes

The most comprehensive system for developing sustainable landscapes, the SITES v2 Rating System, has been released by the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ program for use by landscape practitioners, developers, policy-makers and others that work in land design and development. Learn More

TPWD announces wildlife management area seminars

The Kerr and Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Areas are planning on opening their doors for a series of workshops on a wide range of wildlife topics. The three-part series will be organized with a combination of lectures and outdoor field-trips. These outings are free and open to the public, though a reservation is appreciated. Workshops run August through October. More details can be found here.

The Ebb and Flow of a Sustainable Water Plan

As the drought in Texas has intensified over the last several years, the water plan has taken on new prominence. A new report from the Texas Center for Policy Studies examines whether the planning process is producing useful results, and, if not, how it can be improved. Read more from Mary Kelly.

Texas Watershed Steward Workshop, July 17 in Dripping Springs

The AgriLife Extension will be hosting a free, one-day educational workshop designed to help watershed residents improve and protect their water resources by getting involved in local watershed protection and management activities. Learn more

First Home Powered by the Sun in Mason

Mason County Habitat for Humanity completed the first Solar PV (photovoltaic) system powered home in the city of Mason. The house was constructed to the latest green building standards and to the 2102 building code energy requirements. Read more from Mason County News.

Rainwater harvesting: simple idea, big benefits

Installing a rainwater collection system costs about the same or less than drilling a well but offers multiple advantages, making it the more economical and environmentally-friendly choice in the long run. Most importantly, rainwater collection systems do not deplete underlying aquifers the way wells do, making them much more reliable sources of water. Read more from the Hondo Anvil Herald.

Don't count your El Niño before it hatches

Much has been said in recent weeks and months about the development of an El Niño system this fall that could bring a "wetter than average" season to Texas and the Hill Country, possibly ending our region's recent drought. The latest satellite images have led some to urge caution in an overly optimistic El Niño forecast. Find more details in this AgriLife article.

Texas Today: A Sea of the Wrong Grasses

This article from 2010 contains timeless insight about exotic grasses in our landscape. "With the elimination of a few native weeds, wildflowers and bunchgrasses in a pasture overcome with an exotic grass, comes elimination of a few bugs that live only on a single wildflower, a few weed seeds, and a few quail nesting sites." When you extrapolate that across Hill Country, you start seeing fewer butterflies, insects, quail, native wildflowers, grasses and other species- declines that compound year after year. A worthwhile reminder of the importance of natives. Read more

Better Lights for Better Nights Conference

The City of Dripping Springs, in partnership with the International Dark Sky Association Texas (IDA Texas), will host the Better Lights for Better Nights Conference on Friday, August 15, 2014 at the Dripping Springs Ranch Park Events Center. Details

TWDB Board to approve financial assistance at Board meeting on June 18

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will hold a Board meeting to approve financial assistance for numerous water projects across the state. Projects to be considered for financial assistance include emergency water supply and water supply projects, wastewater treatment plant improvements, a new wastewater treatment plant and an agricultural conservation center. Learn more

Hill Country Alliance Urges Texas Water Development Board to Make Conservation Priority in Funding State Water Projects

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) soon will announce draft rules and priorities for how SWIFT funds will be spent. In advance of that announcement, the Hill Country Alliance (HCA) convened a roundtable discussion in Blanco on June 4th where HCA board, advisory team and other water and land stewardship experts discussed a range of solutions that could save money and provide water to see the state through future severe droughts. Read more

Rainwater Revival call for sponsors and exhibitors

HCA is currently accepting sponsor and exhibitor applications for the 5th annual Rainwater Revival to be held October 25th in Dripping Springs. Help HCA promote rainwater harvesting as a viable Hill Country water supply. Rainwater collection professionals and enthusiasts will gather for this “edufest” designed to teach and inspire the practice of rainwater collection. This event will be open to the public and free to attend. Learn more and get involved.

TWA On-Demand Webinar Previews on iTunes U

The Texas Wildlife Association has collaborated with the Texas Education Agency to create On-demand youth webinars. This educational tool for teachers and parents is a great resource for teaching our next generation about taking care of the natural world. Learn more]

Smart Growth Online

Around the county, communities are choosing healthy solutions for how our cities and towns respond to population growth. Smart Growth Online is a great resource for the latest trends in green infrastructure, urban agriculture, walkable and transit oriented developments and innovative development practices. The next generation is demanding a better way than traditional sprawl patterns. Find helpful articles, events and resources here.

Three Hill Country Schools Win Rainwater Revival Grants to Fund Water Conservation Projects

Impressed by the quality of proposals for its rainwater harvesting and conservation grant program, the Hill Country Alliance is awarding three – instead of the planned two – $1,000 grants to Hill Country schools to help teachers and students design and implement water-saving techniques. Read more

Severe drought calls for conservation throughout basin

There is nothing more important to our communities than a reliable water supply – our homes, our businesses, our very lives, depend on it. As we enter the seventh summer of this severe drought – and despite the recent rain in Central Texas – it is more essential than ever that everyone in the lower Colorado River basin do their part to conserve water. Read more

SARA Announces Inaugural Environmental Film Fest

The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) has announced it will host the agency’s first Environmental Film Fest to help commemorate National Rivers Month in June. Learn more

Our Texas Drought, What’s Happening?

“If we want to have a Texas similar to the one our parents enjoyed, with good clean water, reasonably priced food, healthy rivers and quality bays, we are going to have to do the right thing starting at home and then carry those ideals to our counties, towns, and to Austin in particular. WATER IS LIFE!” Read more from Mike Mecke, published in Ranch & Rural Living Magazine.

Guarding San Antonio’s Eternal Water Future

“The path to a secure water future – and thus, our economic prosperity – was largely written when this area was first settled over the Edwards Aquifer centuries ago. Sound planning will be necessary to ensure clean and abundant water for generations to come and to maintain the aquifer as a primary strategic economic and environmental asset.” Read more from San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg published in the Rivard Report.

Debate over Substation near Fredericksburg

“(Public reaction) is ranging from really high negative feelings, just outrage. I’ve talked to some landowners that were in tears,” Katherine Peake, an area landowner who also serves as president of the Hill Country Land Trust, said. “I’m convinced it’s needed. It’s just how can we minimize the impact of the lines and the substation?” Read more from the Fredericksburg Standard.

ASR and Texas water resources: A tool whose time has come?

With booming water demands and shrinking supplies, water resource managers in Central Texas and beyond are increasingly considering ASR -- aquifer storage and recovery -- as a tool for generating reliable groundwater supplies. While ASR is becoming more common throughout the rest of the U.S. and around the world, Texas has been slow to adopt the technology. Is it time for that to change? Read more

Rainwater harvesting ‘soaking in’ as way to conserve Texas’ water resources

After a long dry period, many parts of the state have finally received some badly needed rain, and those with rainwater harvesting systems have been reaping the rewards of this belated gift from Mother Nature, said Texas A&M AgriLife water resources experts. Read more

Austin Rides to the Front

Did you know that Austin’s green lanes, or cycle tracks, like the one you see on Guadalupe along The Drag or on Blue Bonnet Lane were inspired by the Netherlands and Denmark, where one-third to one-half of residents travel by bike daily? The improvements to Austin’s bike-friendly infrastructure and culture, including its recent designation as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, is featured in this month’s Planning Magazine, the magazine for the American Planning Association.

Milan J. Michalec elected President of the Cow Creek GCD

“I’m honored for the vote of confidence given by my fellow directors,” Michalec said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to maintain, and more importantly, to advance the reputation of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District as one of the most forward-thinking and effective districts in Texas. Read more from the Boerne Star.

Meet Andrew Murr

Former Kimble County Judge, Republican Andrew Murr won the Republican nomination for House District 53 last night. This seat includes Bandera, Crockett, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Menard, Real, Schleicher, Sutton counties, a district represented by Harvey Hilderbran since 1988. Andrew’s an 8th generation Texan, descendant of a pioneering family of one of our brave defenders of the Alamo, and grandson of former Governor Coke R. Stevenson. Learn more

Award-winning rainwater capture system crowning achievement of retiring Bandera High teacher

Congratulations to Brad Flink, who’s RWH project was honored by the Texas Water Development Board with its Texas Rain Catcher Award. HCA’s Rainwater Revival grant program provided support to document this project and create a model for other campuses. The stormwater retention and reuse system created by students is capable of holding 84,000 gallons for irrigating the Bulldogs' baseball field. Read more from Zeke MacCormak and the SA Express News.

Support for Low Impact Development

Low Impact Development (LID) is a comprehensive approach to site planning, design, and pollution prevention that attempts to minimize downstream impacts of land development by matching the pre-development runoff condition and creating a more sustainable and ecologically functional landscape. Read more from the Central Texas Land/Water Sustainability Forum.

Lawn alternatives gain popularity but ‘carpet grass’ remains norm

At a glance, Boerne shows up as an emerald dot on a NASA map of lawns. The area’s cultivated green St. Augustine or “carpet” grass also figures as a fraction of Duke University data in which 40.5 million acres are said to be covered by lawns across the nation. Accompanying that NASA-sponsored lawn-map is a statistic claiming that more than 7 billion gallons of water are used every year to maintain lawns. Lawns are, according to that site, “the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area.” Read part one of the two-part series from Boerne Star.

EPA Releases EnviroAtlas Ecosystem Mapping Tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released EnviroAtlas, a web-based interactive tool that integrates over 300 separate data layers, helps decision makers understand the implications of planning and policy decisions on our fragile ecosystems and the communities who depend on goods and services from these ecosystems. Learn more

Landowners in transmission line study area encouraged to send input by this Friday, May 30

A proposed transmission line and substation will affect Gillespie, Blanco and Kendall Counties. LCRA is requesting input using its “Project Questionnaire.” by this Friday. Read this helpful “Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions” fact sheet from Braun and Gresham. Learn more about the recent public meeting, links for additional information and what to expect next here. “We can insist on guarantees from LCRA and CTEC that once located, the lines and the substation will be built with regard for minimum aesthetic and environmental impact.” Read this letter to the editor from Hill Country neighbors.

Thinking about becoming a Master Naturalist?

The Hill Country Master Naturalists are now recruiting for their Fall Class. With a mission to “develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.” HCMN works in Bandera, Gillespie, Kendall, Kerr, Edwards, Real, Kimble, Mason and Menard Counties. Learn more about how to apply. There are several other Master Naturalist programs in the Hill Country. Find a chapter near you.

Managers Discuss Hill Country’s Water Resources And The Drouth

The Trinity Aquifer and the Upper Guadalupe River are major components of the hill country’s available water supply. While these water resources typically do not receive as much attention as the more prominent Edwards Aquifer, for example, with the rapidly growing population in this part of the state their importance has never been more crucial. Read more from Livestock Weekly.

Electric Project Open House Draws Large Crowd

An estimated 200 people attended an open house May 15th in Stonewall to learn more about the proposed Blumenthal substation and 138-kV transmission line project that will affect that area. Representatives from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Central Texas Electric Cooperative (CTEC) and the consulting firm Power Engineers, were on hand to answer questions and receive input regarding the study area. Learn more

Environmental and economic protection through water supply development

Recent rainfall in Austin delivered more water to the Gulf, but little to lakes Travis and Buchanan, the area’s water supply reservoirs. With near average rainfall the last two years and the lakes continuing to fall, a historic flood or an extremely wet year is necessary to replenish central Texas water supplies and avoid the unthinkable. Read more from Tom Hegemier of the Central Texas Land Water Sustainability Forum.

Western Hill Country Ranch honored by TPWD

Congratulations to Ruthie and Johnnie Russell for being recognized by TPWD as a Lone Star Land Steward. The Russell’s chose to enact a conservation easement on their property because of growing pressure of land fragmentation. “Ranchettes make it difficult to conserve land on the scale necessary to keep habitat intact and ecological systems functioning” Ruthie said. Read more from the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and enjoy a great video about the Sycamore Ranch here.

Wildscape proves to be sustainable landscape alternative

“As the drought deepens, as water rationing becomes the norm, as human population booms and as indicator wildlife populations drastically decline, people are stuck wondering what kind of world we will leave to the next generations,” Read more from George Cates of Native American Seed, published in the Boerne Star.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Awarded Grant to Support Landowners in the Pedernales River Watershed

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) was recently awarded $100,000 in grants to protect the Texas state fish, Guadalupe Bass, in the Pedernales River basin. TPWD will be working with the Hill Country Alliance to identify willing landowners for habitat conservation work within the Pedernales catchment- an area totaling more than 800,000 acres in the heart of the Hill Country. Funds will be available on a competitive basis for cost-share projects, and will benefit the whole health of the river system. Learn More

Comfort Heritage Foundation Recognizes David K. Langford

David K. Langford is being honored for his local stewardship and the book, Hillingdon Ranch: Four Season, Six Generations. Langford is one of four recipients of the Comfort Heritage Foundation's annual award for outstanding contributions to the preservation of the heritage and culture of Comfort. The awards will be presented May 31st. Read More

Seeing Stars in Dripping Springs

As Texas booms, the state is less and less able to brag that the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. In the big cities and the sprawling suburbs, and even in Far West Texas near the McDonald Observatory, light pollution is increasingly limiting our ability to enjoy the night sky. But the Hill Country town of Dripping Springs is showing that the starry skies can be preserved or restored even as the state grows. Associate Editor Forrest Wilder writes about the growing dark skies movement and how unlike many environmental woes—climate change, for instance, or the extinction of species—light pollution is eminently reversible. More from the Texas Observer.

Judge’s Corner: Judge makes his stance on groundwater

Water is not only a property right, it is essential to the health and welfare of all Texas citizens. For that reason, groundwater conservation districts are authorized by Texas law to protect this resource of our great state. There are now 100 such districts throughout the state. These local boards are to oversee, regulate, limit, and conserve the groundwater resources of Texas for the public’s benefit now and in the future. More from Statesman.com.

Enlightening New Report on Texas Water Planning

A report issued by the non-profit Texas Center for Policy Studies (TCPS) finds that the current water planning process in Texas tends to over-estimate future water demand and under-estimate the potential for making better use of existing supplies. “This report shows that, with more reasonable demand projections and better use of conservation and drought management, the demand/supply gap in 2060 is less than one-half that predicted by the current 2012 State Water Plan issued by TWDB. Read more and download the report from TCPS. Read more from the Texas Tribune, “How Much Water Will Texas Really Need by 2060?”

Fair Oaks Ranch project raises water concerns in Comal County

“The Reserve at Fair Oaks Ranch is exactly the kind of proposed development that Rep. Doug Miller long has cited in calls to create a groundwater conservation district in Comal County…after four years of litigation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently gave up its efforts to force Comal and Travis counties to create groundwater districts or join existing ones in neighboring counties.” “We would have liked to see the process continue,” said Milan J. Michalec, president of the Hill Country Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting natural resources. “There should be a district there and pumping should be managed by the appropriate authority.” - Read more from SA Express-News.

Landowners in Gillespie, Blanco and Kendall Counties

An open house will be held this Thursday, May 15th regarding a new LCRA electric substation and transmission line project in the Blumenthal area east of Fredericksburg. The meeting will be held at the Stonewall Chamber of Commerce from 5:30 – 7:30. Learn more and let your neighbors know.

San Marcos to offer rebates for rainwater harvest systems

The City of San Marcos Public Works Department is implementing a new program to help its customers conserve water. Through this program water customers can receive rebates for purchasing and installing rain barrels and large rainwater tank systems. Private home systems may qualify for up to $5,000, while commercial, institutional and multi-family systems may receive as much as $20,000 in rebates. Learn More

Keep Rivers Flowing

“Innovative Strategies to Protect and Restore Rivers,” is a 3-part webinar series designed to inform people about strategies to ensure the future health of Texas’ rivers, bays and estuaries. If you missed session one, presentations delivered by Myron Hess, Andy Sansom and Brian Richter are posted on the Texas Living Waters website. Mark your calendars and register now for the next two sessions scheduled for May 29th and June 25th. Great work by our friends at Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

CASE CLOSED: Disappointment for Hill Country Aquifer Protection

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently halted a process that could have created groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) in some of the fasted growing areas of the Hill Country. TCEQ Executive Director Richard Hyde successfully petitioned the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) with a motion to dismiss the case that had been underway since 2010 to create GCDs in Western Travis and Western Comal counties. The request was granted January 27, 2014, and the case is now closed. Read More

May tour of Night Sky events scheduled in the Hill Country

HCA is hosting Night Sky educational programs the week of May 12th – 16th in Fredericksburg, Llano, Marble Falls and at the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The HCA Night Sky Team welcomes Bill Wren of the McDonald Observatory back to the Hill Country to teach and inspire about proper lighting for the night sky. This is one of our most widely popular educational programs; we are discovering a growing regional consensus about the importance of protecting our starry Hill Country sky. Learn More

Hill Country Alliance Adds New Staff to Focus on Water Policy and Landowner Outreach Programs

The Hill Country Alliance is pleased to welcome two new full-time staff members, Charlie Flatten and Katherine Romans, who will respectively manage the organization’s water policy and landowner outreach programs. Read More

Water Development Board’s ombudsman will help towns navigate the process

Senator Troy Fraser and Carolos Rubinstein visited Fredericksburg last week to introduce TWDB’s new “rural ombudsman” Doug Shaw. “We hope underground aquifer storage becomes commonplace, as it is less intrusive than new reservoirs and it suffers less evaporation….But everyone will have to pitch in to begin thinking about and using water in more efficient ways.” Read more from the Fredericksburg Standard.

Bandera High School Among TWDB’s Texas Rain Catcher Award Winners

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) announced recently that Bandera High School is among the winners of its annual Texas Rain Catcher Award, a rainwater harvesting competition and recognition program. The award recognizes excellence in the application of rainwater harvesting systems in Texas, promotes the technology, and educates the public. Learn More

Wind farm and transmission line updates from SOSHE

Final CREZ lines have been completed, a public meeting will be held in Stonewall May 15th regarding the Blumenthal Substation and new transmission line, The first major wind farm in Central Texas is now online in Mills County. Learn more from the most recent Save Our Scenic Hill Country (SOSHE) newsletter.

Strong Towns Curbside Chat Thursday, May 8th, 6–7:30pm at the LBJ Museum in San Marcos

Meet Chuck Marohn, President of Strong Towns for a candid talk and conversation about the future of America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods. “The current approach to growth emphasizes investments in new infrastructure to serve or induce new development. This approach uses public dollars inefficiently, destructively subsidizes one type of development over another and leaves massive maintenance liabilities to future generations.” Event Details

Texas Riparian & Stream Ecosystem Workshop

The Texas Water Resources Institute’s Texas Riparian and Stream Ecosystem Education Program will host a workshop from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. May 13 in Kerrville for area residents interested in land and water stewardship in the Upper Guadalupe watershed. Learn More

City Wastewater Discharge May Threaten Clear-running Creeks and Water Wells

Some water experts believe Hill Country clear-running creeks and streams may soon be a thing of the past if cities are permitted to discharge treated wastewater directly into creeks such as Onion Creek. Water wells may also become contaminated. Read More

Keeping Rivers Flowing: Innovative Strategies to Protect and Restore Rivers - Starts April 30

"Keeping Rivers Flowing" is a free three-part webinar series designed to inform interested persons about strategies to ensure the future health of Texas' rivers, bays and estuaries. Drawing on practical experience from here in Texas and around the world, speakers will discuss innovative approaches for ensuring that rivers, bays and estuaries continue to get the flow needed to protect water quality and support healthy fish and wildlife populations. Learn More

Common Misperceptions Regarding Land and Wildlife Management in Central Texas

There’s a lot of bad information floating around in the Hill Country regarding land management, in addition to a lot of good information. Sometimes it is difficult to sort out the bad from the good. Misinformation can come from a variety of sources – the coffee shop, the feed store, magazine articles, well meaning neighbors and even natural resource professionals. By clarifying some of the common misperceptions, people will be able to make better decisions regarding natural resources. Steve’s writings are timeless. Read more from Steve Nelle and educate your neighbors.

Join HCA at Upcoming Bennett Trust Education Program: Protecting the Legacy of the Edwards Plateau

The Bennett Trust will host its first ever land stewardship and education conference April 23-25 in Kerrville. Wyman Meinzer, state photographer of Texas, will deliver the keynote address on the history and legacy of the Edwards Plateau. Attendees will also have the opportunity to visit local ranches, vineyards and orchards to learn more about sustainable practices in horticulture, forage production and wildlife management. Learn More

TWDB opens SWIFT for public comment

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has opened their State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) rules making process for public comment. Participation in the rules making process is critical to ensure that the intentions of the State Legislature are carried out in the long-term administration of the State’s SWIFT funds. The HCA has submitted a list of recommendations to the TWDB that will help ensure spring and stream-flow sustainability in the Hill Country.

PEC Candidate Forum April 24th in Johnson City

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is hosting a candidates forum for two board of director seats up for election this year. The meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24 at PEC Headquarters, 201 S. Ave. F in Johnson City. The event will also include discussion of a ballot referendum on whether to switch to single-member district elections for board directors. Learn more about the candidates from the San Marcos Mercury. Learn more about the process and forum from the PEC.

Hays County makes pitch for agency to secure, divvy up water

The Hays County Commissioners Court is actively searching for partners in a quest to supply water for the future growth expected west of I-35. Additionally, developers, water marketers, and local politicians are looking for new sources of water that will provide for that growth. The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer east of I-35 is being marketed as an abundant resource ready for export into the Hill Country that would supplement the Hill Country’s already strained Trinity Aquifer. This Austin American Statesman article by Andra Lim reports on a recent Hays, Travis and Williamson combined County Commissioners Court meeting to explore the formation of a regional water grid that would pipe water from Bastrop and Lee Counties to points west of I-35.

Hays County makes pitch for agency to secure, divvy up water

The Hays County Commissioners Court is actively searching for partners in a quest to supply water for the future growth expected west of I-35. Additionally, developers, water marketers, and local politicians are looking for new sources of water that will provide for that growth. The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer east of I-35 is being marketed as an abundant resource ready for export into the Hill Country that would supplement the Hill Country’s already strained Trinity Aquifer. This Austin American Statesman article by Andra Lim reports on a recent Hays, Travis and Williamson combined County Commissioners Court meeting to explore the formation of a regional water grid that would pipe water from Bastrop and Lee Counties to points west of I-35.

Sky Lewey, HCA Board Member receives Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Award

Sky has been selected to receive a “Lone Star Land Steward Award” for her work in education and outreach for the Nueces River Authority in Uvalde County. “Sky Lewey is a conservation educator with extraordinary leadership and dedication. A key figure in the efforts to restore healthy riparian function to the Nueces River Basin and beyond.” David Langford, HCA Advisor, and his wife Myrna are also receiving an award for their landowner cooperative in Kendall County. Congratulations HCA leaders! Read more from TPWD.

To Deal With Drought, Texas Needs to Manage Growth

“With the exception of the lower Rio Grande Valley and small parts of Far West Texas, much of the state has received less than 50 percent of normal rainfall,” reads TWDB’s most recent report. “This doesn’t bode well for the next six months. A dry winter generally portends a dry spring and summer.” Read more from Nextcity.org.

Amazing rally for Bracken Bat Cave

Bat Conservation International has inspired major support to prevent intense development of 1500 acres adjacent to Bracken Cave from the City of San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro, City Councilman Ron Nirenberg, The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation and others. Find out more about recent negotiations to save the cave and learn about upcoming opportunities to personally visit Bracken Bat Cave and see the bats take flight.

The Great Grassland Myth of the Texas Hill Country

How many times have you heard that the Hill Country was once a great vast grassland with only a modest covering of trees and brush? Although this longstanding myth is deeply ingrained and embraced by many government agencies, biologists, landowners and professionals, it is false and misleading. Learn what the Hill Country was really like prior to 1860 from eye-witness accounts, and why it is important to understand the past. Read and share from Steve Nelle.

Georgetown moves to limit residential lawns and landscaping to save water

“The rules require residential developers to use only drought-resistant plants from a list provided by the city. St. Augustine grass, which tends to be very thirsty, can only be planted in areas where there is 10 inches of topsoil and less than 6 hours of full sunlight per day.” Read more from the American Statesman (subscription required). Learn more about St. Augustine and the impact lawn watering has on our regional water supply from Native American Seed here. KXAN reports “more buyers want homes with smaller yards and less grass to water.” View video here.

The High Cost of San Antonio’s North-South Water Divide

The fact is the city’s sprawling suburbs, gated communities and ex-urban neighborhoods are addicted to lawn and landscape watering. SAWS officials say about one-third of all the water we use in the hot summer months is pumped to keep grass alive. Not humans, but grass. Learn More

TWDB launches Interactive State Water Plan Website

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has developed a new Interactive 2012 State Water Plan webpage that will let water users statewide take an up-close look at data in the 2012 State Water Plan and how our water needs will change over time. This data will arm communities with important information as they plan for projects to submit for State Water Implementation Fund (SWIFT) funding. Learn More

A more “Night Skies” friendly community

It started when the Kimble County Commissioners Court, followed by the City Council, passed resolutions supporting voluntary efforts to protect the Night Skies. This paralleled actions being taken in other Hill Country communities to preserve the awe-inspiring Night Skies and the enjoyment that comes with stargazing, including its attraction for visitors. Read more from the Junction Eagle.

More News

Upcoming Events


August 19 in Junction - CANCELED - AgriLife Living Waters event

August 26 in Austin - Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council & Lone Star Rail District Discussion on the Future of Transportation & Reception with State Representative Larry Phillips - Details


September 6 in Fredericksburg - HCA Landowner Workshop: Discussion of the Blumenthal Substation and Transmission Line - Details

Sepbember 8-12 in Austin - 6th International Workshop on Catchment Hydrological Modeling and Data Assimilation - Details

September 11 in Wimberley - Community Water Meeting, hosted by CARD - Details

September 12 in Kendalia - 2014 New Landowner Series: Wildlife and Range Management, Brush Work and Sculpting - Presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Details

September 26-28 in Belton - Renewable Energy Roundup - Details

September 27-28 in Boerne - Texas Hydro-Geo Workshop - Details

September 28 in Austin - 7th Annual Celebration of Children in Nature - Hosted by The Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin and the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center - Details

See more upcoming events

2015 Calendar

HCA's 2015 Calendar is coming soon! Check back for availability.

Check out the top photos from our 2014 HCA Photo Contest

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

Hill Country View
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Helpful Mapping Resources - Beautiful and informative maps of the region to print and share.

HCA Dynamic Mapping Tool - Interactive online GIS mapping tool

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