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Smithsonian Institute Archives Relating to the Hill Country

Found on the Smithsonian Institute website, this study is an excellent comprehensive summary of the unique natural features, challenges and conservation goals for the Hill Country Region.

Please click here to review the complete site including links to resources and maps.


The Edwards Plateau, lying east of the continental divide, is a plateau sloping gently eastward, dropping on average about 180 cm per km, but steeper at the western margin. The southern and eastern margins, and to a lesser extent the other parts, are much dissected by the following rivers: Colorado of Texas, Guadalupe, Nueces, Rio Grande/Pecos, and tributaries thereof (Map 8). This is an ancient evolutionary arena. Most of the land surface has been exposed continuously for occupation by terrestrial biota for at least 65,000,000 years. The plateau consists of three sub-regions:

1. The north-western sub-region, with little macrorelief (i.e., flat or gently undulating), a true plateau geomorphically, comprising about half the Edwards Plateau. Elevation 700-1000 m. Soil is a dark stony clay loam where present, but much of the surface consists of outcrops of Cretaceous limestone. The part of the Edwards Plateau west of the Pecos River is sometimes called the Stockton Plateau.

2. The southern and eastern margins are dissected by canyons separated by flat or undulating divides. The dissected part is locally known as the Texas Hill Country (picture); roughly half of the total area of the Edwards Plateau. Virtually the entire surface consists of outcrops of Cretaceous limestone. Elevation: 250-800 m, or as low as 100 m in the bottom of the canyon mouths.

3. Most geomorphologists also include in this broad category a relatively small area of about 6000 km˛, known as the Granitic Central Basin, or Central Mineral Region, in the north-central margin. In this area the Cretaceous limestone has been removed by erosion. A variety of rocks crop out, ranging from Archean through upper Palaeozoic in age. The soil, where present, is thin and stony. The exposed rocks are largely granitic and gneissic, with some sandstones and limestones. Elevation: 500-800 m.

Average annual rainfall varies from about 800 mm on the eastern encanyonated margin to 500 mm at the western margin. Rainfall is erratic on the eastern margin and its dependability declines even further westward. Virtually all rain runs off rapidly in the eastern and southern parts. In the north-western quarter of the Plateau, water accumulates for some days after rains, gradually permeating the underlying strata. Some years are virtually rainless. In relatively "normal" years, rainfall is low in winter and spring through April, but a peak of rainfall occurs in May/June followed by a summer slump and then another peak in September, tapering off in October. Rainfall usually occurs as local, moving, showers or storms, originating from cumulus clouds. Rare flooding is associated with the "hurricane season", May through October. Winter snow is rare, scant and usually melts within 24 hours.

Average annual temperature for the Edwards Plateau is approximately 21°C. Monthly average temperatures vary from around 11°C in January to 30°C in August. Temperatures are lowest at the western, higher parts of the Edwards Plateau, and higher at the eastern, lower parts. But, as in the case of precipitation records, extremes are in several ways more important statistics for the biologist. July afternoon highs often range to 41° or 42°C and January night-time lows often approximate -10°C. The lowest night-time temperature ever recorded in the Plateau was about -23°C. The average last spring frost is usually in late March and the earliest frost in autumn is in mid-November.


The "original" (c. 1800) vegetation was grassland or, more commonly, a type of open savanna, with shrubs and low trees along rocky slopes (Correll and Johnston 1970; Stanford 1976; Hatch, Gandhi and Brown 1990). "Tall" prairie grasses (about 1 m tall in late September, the month of maximum height) are still common on level or nearly level rocky outcrops and protected areas having good soil moisture. Shallow or more xeric, exposed sites support "midgrasses" (maximum heights usually 20-50 cm) and those areas with much grazing have a predominance of "shortgrasses" not more than about 15 cm in height. The vegetation in 1800 was therefore not as dense or lush as would be expected in a climate with a mean annual precipitation of 500 to 800 mm, but this is because of the unpredictable rainfall. In the early 1800s and even up into the 1840s, 1850s and later, the open, grassy nature of the landscape was associated with recurrent fires which suppressed woody growth. Fires are well known to be propagated on relatively level ground, but not on steep slopes. Thus the woody brush was confined to the steeper slopes and canyon walls.

Presently not only the rocky slopes but many of the undulating uplands, especially in the eastern and southern halves, carry a dense growth, 3-8 m tall, of shrubs and small trees, mostly oaks (Quercus fusiformis and other species) and juniper (Juniperus ashei). This invasion of woody plants into former grasslands is attributed to the suppression of fires in historical times, which allowed the woody invaders to displace some of the grassland. Some writers invoke the working of cattle and other livestock on the landscape to help explain these historical trends. At the north-western margin of the Edwards Plateau, the vegetation grades into that of the "mesquite-tobosa country" of the Rolling Plains, also a short-grass savanna with mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) dotting the short tobosa grass (Hilaria mutica) which forms vast almost mono-specific stands on flatlands with slow run-off.


The earliest professional botanical collections in the Edwards Plateau were those of Jean Louis Berlandier, who accompanied a bison-hunting party in the Hill Country late in 1828. Another notable Texas botanist, Ferdinand Lindheimer, settled at the mouth of a Hill Country canyon in 1843 and collected in the area for some years. Many of the species of the region carry his name. A few other botanists collected in the area in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. From the 1920s onward, many botanists have collected here. The Edwards Plateau is well known botanically. Approximately 2300 species of native vascular plants have been recorded from the Edwards Plateau (Correll and Johnston 1970; Stanford 1976; Hatch, Gandhi and Brown 1990). An additional 200 species are introduced. A study of the distributions of the species outside of the Edwards Plateau indicates that about 500 of the gramineous and herbaceous, especially the prairie-type, species tend to be those of wide distribution in the grasslands of North America, many extending south into north-central Mexico and north into the Great Plains and even into southern Canada. Of the shrubs and small trees, most reach their northern and/or eastern limits in the Edwards Plateau, and thus can be thought of as having floristic relationships more with the calcareous mountains and plateaux of northern Mexico (the Sierra Madre Oriental, broadly construed). Many of these plants seem to "spill over" to some extent onto the edaphically similar limestone uplands just east of the Edwards Plateau, for example, the upper Cretaceous Austin Chalk outcrop, or farther south onto the calcareous hills of the Rio Grande plain, especially the Bordas Scarp.

Only a few species (about 10% of the Plateau flora) are strictly endemic, that is, they are not known to occur at all outside of the Edwards Plateau. But the list of strictly endemic species includes some truly fascinating threatened and endangered species. In the listings below a careful attempt has been made to list the rarest species first, and less and less rare species in sequence. Topping the list are the beautiful and endangered Styrax texana and the threatened Styrax platanifolia, known from a few canyons in the Hill Country (Gonsoulin 1974). The rare, beautiful and probably endangered Salvia penstemonoides deserves an early listing, followed by: Dalea sabinalis (Barneby 1977), Streptanthus bracteatus, Crataegus secreta (Phipps 1990), Philadelphus ernestii, P. texanus, Penstemon triflorus, Carex edwardsensis (Bridges and Orzell 1989), Seymeria texana (Turner 1982), Tridens buckleyanus (Gould 1975), Anemone edwardsiana, Penstemon helleri, Matelea edwardsensis, Amsonia tharpii, Ancistrocactus tobuschii, Onosmodium helleri, Erigeron mimegletes, Tragia nigricans, Berberis swaseyi, Amorpha texana (Wilbur 1975), Hesperaloë parviflora, Galactia texana, Opuntia edwardsensis (Grant and Grant 1979, 1982), Kuhnia leptophylla (Turner 1989), Perityle lindheimeri (Powell 1974), Tradescantia edwardsiana, Chaetopappa effusa (Nesom 1988), C. bellidifolia (Nesom 1988), Quercus laceyi, Vitis monticola (Moore 1991), Buddleja racemosa, Garrya lindheimeri (Dahling 1978) and Verbesina lindheimeri.

One special case is that of Muhlenbergia involuta which appears to be a series of sterile first-generation hybrids between M. lindheimeri and M. reverchonii. These hybrids are known only from the Edwards Plateau, which is the overlap-area of the ranges of the two putative parental species.

Examples of more widespread species of which endemic varieties occur in the Edwards Plateau are few. Some examples are Samolus ebracteatus var. cuneatus, a variety of a very widespread American tropical complex (Henrickson 1983) and Aesculus pavia var. flavescens, a local variety of a species widespread in the woodlands of south-eastern U.S.A. Likewise, Vitis aestivalis var. lincecumii is the Edwards Plateau race of a grape widespread in eastern North America (Moore 1991). Pediomelum hypogaeum var. scaposum on the other hand is a variety of a species widespread in the southern Great Plains and Prairie States (Grimes 1988). Croton alabamensis is a special case, with one extremely rare variety endemic to northern Alabama and an even rarer variety endemic to the eastern Edwards Plateau (Ginzbarg 1991, 1992).

If we extend our consideration of endemism to limestone uplands generally in northern Mexico and southern, central and western Texas, we find many species that occur in the Edwards Plateau and range perhaps 100 to 300 km outside of the strictly defined Edwards Plateau. Among the species that are not strictly endemic to the Edwards Plateau but also occur on the edaphically similar limestone uplands of central and southern Texas (including the Austin chalk) are Euphorbia jejuna, Brickellia dentata, Agalinis edwardsiana, Physostegia correllii (Cantino 1982), Clematis texensis, Penstemon guadalupensis, P. brevibarbatus, Yucca rupicola, Muhlenbergia reverchonii, Vernonia larsenii (King and Jones 1975), Argythamnia simulans, Dichromena nivea, Thelesperma curvicarpum, Mirabilis lindheimeri, Desmanthus reticulatus, Pediomelum cyphocalyx (Grimes 1988), Desmanthus velutinus, Hedeoma acinoides, Panicum pedicellatum, Salvia roemeriana, Tetragonotheca texana, Lespedeza texana, Salvia dolichantha, Salvia texana and Quercus buckleyi (Dorr and Nixon 1985).

Species common to the flora of limestone uplands of western Nuevo Leon and Coahuila (Mexico) and also the Edwards Plateau include: Colubrina stricta, Hesperaloë funifera, Pinus remota (Bailey and Hawksworth 1979), Bouteloua uniflora, Pistacia texana, Pavonia lasiopetala, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Hunzikeria texana (Hunziker and Subils 1979), Antiphytum heliotropioides, Salvia engelmannii, Lythrum ovalifolium, Passiflora affinis, Penstemon baccharifolius, Scutellaria microphylla, Forestiera reticulata, Rhus virens, Thelesperma longipes, T. simplicifolium, Chaptalia texana, Chrysactinia mexicana, Bernardia myricifolia, Galphimia angustifolia, Croton fruticulosus, Acacia roemeriana, Stillingia texana, Indigofera lindheimeri and Cassia lindheimeriana.

Many other species of the Edwards Plateau could be listed as widely distributed in the south-western U.S.A. and northern Mexico. Examples are Thamnosma texanum and Pinaropappus roseus. A compilation of species common to both the desertic and montane floras of trans-Pecos Texas and adjacent areas and the Edwards Plateau will probably total 300 species. A few species are known to be endemic to non-limestone substrate in the Central Mineral Region, e.g. Campanula reverchonii and Valerianella texana (Mahler 1981). Two widespread subtropical ferns are found in Texas only on Enchanted Rock, one of the granitic knobs of the Central Mineral Region: Blechnum occidentale (Seigler and Lockwood 1975) and Cheilanthes kaulfusii.

Useful plants

The region abounds, during years of normal rainfall, with grasses and herbs useful for foraging by domestic stock. In comparison to this role in ranching, the direct human values of these and other plants of the Edwards Plateau are miniscule. An industry of moderate proportion derives fence posts from the abundant Juniperus ashei of the region. These posts have the reputation of high decay-resistance, when in contact with soil, as compared to any other readily available natural posts. A small industry in the region derives, through steam-distillation, an aromatic oil from the roots, trunks and branches of the same Juniperus ashei. The aromatic oil is incorporated into germicidal bathroom cleaners, all of which have the word "pine" in the name. Exploitation of trees for timber and lumber is of negligible importance. A small industry derives firewood for sale to householders and restaurateurs, mainly from Prosopis glandulosa and Quercus fusiformis. A couple of endemic species have been taken into the horticultural trade, namely Clematis texana and more importantly Hesperaloë parviflora.

Social and environmental values

The region comprises mainly small to large ranches with a mixture of domestic stock including many cattle and slightly fewer goats. Sheep are infrequent, followed by even fewer pigs. Hunting privileges, contracted months or even years in advance of the annual season, provide significant revenues to landowners. The major species hunted is the white tailed deer. Harvests of Rio Grande turkey, wild boar, javalina (collared peccary), bobwhite and scaled quail, and mourning doves are of lesser value. Some ranchers stock exotic species, such as various African and Indian antelopes, for sport hunting. Others stock ostriches and emus, these large birds being valued principally for their skins used in making "cowboy boots". Non-hunting recreation and tourism brings in some revenue. Eco-tourism, specifically ornitho-tourism brings thousands to catch a glimpse of the increasingly uncommon endemic black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapillus) and the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysopareia). Hill Country rivers, clear, relatively cool and lined with stately Taxodium distichum trees, attract thousands of visitors, principally from the even hotter and more humid coastal cities such as Houston. In the last 20 years the Hill Country has blossomed as a sun-belt retirement area with relatively low land values and other low living costs, compared to the traditional overcrowded areas The region comprises mainly small to large ranches with a mixture of domestic stock including many cattle and slightly fewer goats. Sheep are infrequent, followed by even fewer pigs. Hunting privileges, contracted months or even years in advance of the annual season, provide significant revenues to landowners. The major species hunted is the white tailed deer. Harvests of Rio Grande turkey, wild boar, javalina (collared peccary), bobwhite and scaled quail, and mourning doves are of lesser value. Some ranchers stock exotic species, such as various African and Indian antelopes, for sport hunting. Others stock ostriches and emus, these large birds being valued principally for their skins used in making "cowboy boots". Non-hunting recreation and tourism brings in some revenue. Eco-tourism, specifically ornitho-tourism brings thousands to catch a glimpse of the increasingly uncommon endemic black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapillus) and the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysopareia). Hill Country rivers, clear, relatively cool and lined with stately Taxodium distichum trees, attract thousands of visitors, principally from the even hotter and more humid coastal cities such as Houston. In the last 20 years the Hill Country has blossomed as a sun-belt retirement area with relatively low land values and other low living costs, compared to the traditional overcrowded areas in California, Arizona and Florida. The population approximately doubled in the dacade 1981 through 1990, from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 (these estimates do not include the nearby cities east and south of the Hill Country).

Economic assessment

The current value of resources and services that the Edwards Plateau provides to the national economy on a sustainable basis is difficult to ascertain. Minor forest products are not only minor, but negligible in importance.

The Edwards Plateau serves as an important watershed and ground-water recharge zone for several of the most important cities of the region (Waco, Temple, Belton, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, San Antonio, Uvalde, Del Rio), lined up along its eastern and southern margins where rivers disgorge onto the coastal plain. All these cities rely for their water supplies on the streams flowing out of the Edwards Plateau and the large springs at its eastern and southern edges (which are marked by the Balcones Fault Zone). Water percolates through the permeable limestone to the water-table, thence to the springs and wells. A number of streams have been dammed in the last 50 years to ensure the continuity of water-supplies and to support aquatic recreation. Watershed protection has not been, and still is not, a priority with governmental agencies of the region. As a result of the rapid population growth, the quality of the surficial and subterranean water has deteriorated in recent years. Nevertheless, the Edwards Plateau's function as a water recharge and supply zone will in the future become more and more its major economic value to the human population of the region. Vegetational integrity and maturity are known to correlate positively with the quality of underground and surficial water.


The plant resources of the region have been threatened for hundreds of years by an over-abundance of non-native and native animals. Some species have survived the intensive over-browsing only as a few individuals. For example, probably fewer than 15 individuals of Styrax texana exist in the wild. This is an extreme case of poor survival and perhaps indicates the likelihood that some species became extinct prior to botanical exploration. The threat continues and in some areas is further exacerbated by high deer populations which are no longer controlled by natural predation. The major acute new threat, accelerating in recent years, is the development of land for residential and light industrial purposes, especially in the Hill Country near the largest cities (Austin, San Antonio, Waco). Diffuse urbanization, being the result of literally millions of independent decisions to buy small parcels and settle in the area, appears to be immune from governmental regulation without a massive public awakening.


The only lasting and worthwhile effort to minimize loss of biotic and genetic diversity will be to establish large biological reserves selected for their relatively undisturbed state. While this concept is not new to existing policymakers and those with financial resources, at the present time only a miniscule area of the region has been set aside. It should be noted that, in contrast to other western states which initially were carved out of federal territorial land (and which therefore presented more opportunities for establishment of federal parks and forest reserves), Texas initially had virtually no federal lands. State and municipal parks in the Edwards Plateau total only c. 30 km˛ or possibly 35 km˛. There is no National Park, save one of c. 1 km˛ devoted mainly to historical interpretation. While no true wilderness presently survives in the Edwards Plateau, tracts of several hundred to several thousand hectares still exist that could be set aside. It is suggested here that a minimum 2% criterion be applied, that is that concerned governmental and private initiatives work together to set aside appropriate tracts with the minimum goal being 2% of the land area, or about 2000 km˛. That will represent an almost hundred-fold increase over present holdings. Only then can any reasonable expectation that the biotic richness of the region will be passed on to succeeding generations.

The Latest News

Hays County Water Fight Tumbles Into Committee

A volley of legislation launched by state Rep. Jason Isaac to stop a controversial groundwater project in Hays County came under harsh scrutiny by his fellow lawmakers on Wednesday. The Republican of Dripping Springs wants to stop Houston-based Electro Purification from pumping up to 5 million gallons of water a day from wells in his district and selling it to Austin's fast-growing Hill Country suburbs. Read more from the Texas Tribune.

March 25, 2015

Rainwater Revival Calls for Grant Applications from Hill Country Schools

As Texas Hill Country residents and businesses look for ways to conserve water, the Hill Country Alliance’s Rainwater Revival grants lend a helping hand to schools throughout the 17-county region. The HCA is now taking applications through May 1 from schools that want to implement or enhance rainwater collection and water conservation programs on their campuses. Learn more

Census estimates hint at mega-region between San Antonio and Austin

The population boom along the Interstate 35 corridor shows San Antonio and Austin could eventually grow together into a mega, metro region, the state demographer said after studying new census data. Hays and Comal counties — both of which hug I-35 and are wedged between San Antonio and Austin — were the fifth and ninth fastest-growing counties in the U.S. from July 2013 to July 2014, according to census estimates released Thursday. Read more from the San Antonio Express-News.

Buying Development Rights Preserves Watersheds

Protecting watersheds and aquifer recharge areas should be a priority for the House Natural Resources Committee, writes Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. Purchasing development rights from private landowners in critical watersheds, he says, is a proven way to protect rural and agricultural land for the benefit of the state's natural resources. Read more from Trib+Water.

Report: Smart Lawn Watering Could Save Big

Even Texans with the greenest of lawns water them too much, many landscape experts say. And if everyone would turn on the sprinklers only twice a week — still probably more than necessary — the water savings would be significant, according to a report from the Sierra Club released Tuesday. Read more from the Texas Tribune.

TESPA files suit to stop Electro Purification in Hays County District Court

This case could lead to the review and potentially overturn the 'rule of capture'. “We hope to bring the common law of Texas into accord with the laws promoting groundwater conservation as passed by the Legislature and as mandated by the Texas Constitution." Read more from TESPA and get involved.

Will new pipeline spur Hill Country boom?

What is being sold to San Antonio as water security for the future could temporarily fuel Hill Country growth and once that supply is needed in San Antonio, then what? “The Hill Country is a beautiful area with limited surface water, limited groundwater and no big city to spread rates across,” Puente said. “We would answer the desperate call.” Read the full story in the Austin American Statesman.

It’s time to revisit Amy Hardberger’s critical eye on the SA pipeline

“The Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District, which has regulatory authority over the Vista Ridge water, determined that about 50,000 acre-feet of water could be safely permitted. Given that the groundwater district has already granted permits for more than 100,000 acre-feet, it is uncertain how the city can rely on this water for 30 years…San Antonio needs to develop new water resources, but the projects must be affordable and dependable, come rain or shine.” And if this supply is not dependable for San Antonio, how can we consider spurring a Hill Country boom with an unreliable resource? Learn more

A new effort has been launched in Oak Hill

“Save Oak Hill is a coalition of neighbors seeking to establish public greenspaces in Oak Hill to honor and preserve the rich history and unique natural features of the place we call home.” With a major TxDot project on the horizon, this Oak Hill community organization hopes protect their sense of place and environmental significance. Learn more and get involved www.saveoakhill.org.

Despite Central Texas growth, less water drawn from Colorado by cities

Despite Central Texas growth, less water drawn from Colorado by cities. “More people are moving to Central Texas daily, but the region has used less and less precious river water in each of the last several years.” The more we save, the less we need to import. Read the story in the Austin American Statesman.

District Targeted in Water Conflict

As outrage has mounted this year over the Electro Purification well field being built in Hays County, officials from Buda and the planned Anthem subdivision — two customers of the project — have dutifully showed up to town halls and round tables, subjecting themselves to the jeers of their neighbors. But missing from every public meeting has been the most critical player in making the project a reality: the Goforth Special Utility District, a Niederwald-area water provider that has the largest contract with Houston-based Electro Purification’s venture in Hays County. Read full article by the Austin American Statesman.

Here's What's Really Ruining Austin (and It's Not SXSW)

These days, Austin is trouble year-round. What's ruining Old Waterloo for the people who live there and love it are the people who live there and love it. There's just too many of them—and no plan for handling them all. Read more from Citylab.com.

Austin Water reports on water-related legislation

As Central Texas continues to face its worst drought on record, state legislators are considering several bills this session that could affect water supplies in Austin and throughout the state. Read more from Austin Monitor.

Hill Country Land Trust Conserves Sandy Ranch in Blanco County

The Hill Country Land Trust (HCLT), a non-profit land conservation group headquartered in Fredericksburg, Texas, recently worked with a landowner to conserve a 201 acre ranch in Blanco County, bringing the total of HCLT conserved acres in the Hill Country to just over 5,900 by the end of 2014. The property, located near the historic community of Sandy north of Johnson City, has been used for grazing and farming since the 1800s. The owners’ intent is to maintain the property as native rangeland for wildlife and livestock. Learn more

TESPA Announces Water Defense Plans at March 21 Meeting

The latest developments in the fight to protect our groundwater in Hays County go public at the TESPA Water Meeting on March 21 in Wimberley. "I am excited about this public meeting," said TESPA co-founder and local resident Jim Blackburn. "We on the TESPA team will present the surprising results of our legal research and discuss moving forward to stop the Electro Purification water development plan. I hope everyone who cares about the future health and prosperity of our area will join us." Details

Texas suburbs are growing faster than cities

Counties are growing at extremely high rates, in part because of the lack of land use planning ability outside of our cities. This trend has tremendous costs to tax-payers for basic infrastructure needs such as roads, water and schools. “Hays County, just south of Austin, is projected to be the fastest-growing county, by percentage, in all of Texas by 2050” Read more from the Austin Business Journal. Learn more about County Planning authority here.

The Southwest Water Wars

An old-fashioned, Western-style water war has erupted. Across Texas and the Southwest, the scene is repeated in the face of a triple threat: booming population, looming drought and the worsening effects of climate change. Read more from the New York Times.

Isaac Jumping Into Hays County Water Fight

With a high-profile groundwater fight raging in his district, state Rep. Jason Isaac is launching a volley of legislation to stop plans to pump huge amounts of water from underneath Hays County. Read more from the Texas Tribune. Representative Isaac issued his own media release yesterday. Read “Rep. Isaac and Sen. Campbell File Water Legislation Aiming to Protect Trinity Aquifer.” here.

Creating Vibrant Green Cities: Lessons from Seoul South Korea and San Marcos

Join us for a panel discussion with Thomas Hardy, Ph.D., and Matthew Lewis, the City of Austin’s Assistant Director of Planning and Development Review, on the lessons learned from two great green infrastructure projects located an ocean apart. This next event in the Imagine Austin Speaker Series will take place April 1 at the Dougherty Arts Center here.

Victory in Comal County

The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) praised the Comal County Commissioners court this week and announced the denial of the Meyers Ranch “Water Quality Improvement District” would have translated to 1,500 homes on 700 acres over the Edwards Recharge Zone. Read more from GEAA.

Hunt School builds Rainwater Harvesting model with funds from Rainwater Revival Grant

6th and 7th grade students from Hunt School are learning all about water conservation and rainwater harvesting thanks to a grant from HCA's Rainwater Revival and the generous help of the Hunt Garden Club. Read more from the West Kerr Current.

Utility agency pursues water rights

"With the Feb. 24 approval of Bee Cave City Council and Hays County Commissioners Court, West Travis County Public Utility Agency lobbyists are working to find a sponsor in the Texas Legislature for a bill that would define the specific water and wastewater powers the agency has." Read more from Community Impact.

HCA's 2015 Photo Contest has begun!

What is your vision of the Hill Country that future generations will inherit? The Hill Country Alliance (HCA) asks this question as it calls for photographs for its 2016 calendar. The annual HCA photo contest opens on March 1 and runs through May 31. Winners receive cash prizes and their photos will appear in the popular HCA calendar and in the organization’s various educational products. Entering the contest is easy through the HCA website. Learn more

"Food, Health and the Environment: Why Eating Right Can Save You and the Earth"

Join HCA at this first of many educational programs at the Hill Country Science Mill: Ecologist G. David Tilman presents, "Food, Health and the Environment: Why Eating Right Can Save You and the Earth." Dr. Tilman's research focuses on how to provide secure, sufficient and equitable food to all people of all nations while preserving biodiversity and minimizing agricultural impacts on water quality and climate change. March 29th at 4:30 pm at the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City. Details

Central Texas Drought Is Worst on Record

Competition for water prompts a quest for new sources. “The rule of capture is coming to the forefront again,” Venessa Puig-Williams explained. “People in Hays County are seeing that, though the rule purports to uphold property rights, it doesn’t really protect them. Large-scale pumping could dry up nearby groundwater sources.” Read more from Circle of Blue.

CAMPO Public Input Opportunities

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board (TPB) is taking public comment on the draft 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, amendments to the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan and the FY's 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Program. The TPB will hold a public hearing on March 9, and CAMPO will host a series of public meetings before the comment period ends on April 2, 2015. These meetings provide opportunities for the public to comment on the draft 2040 Plan, and on the proposed amendments. Learn more

Texas Wildlife Association to host three-day Women of the Land workshop

This workshop will cover basic skills from chainsaw operation to prescribed fire basics, geared towards female land managers. Interested in building your understanding of some of these important ranch management skills? This could be the workshop for you. Signup deadline is March 13th and space is limited. Details and Registration

Partnership created to establish the Center for Private Land Stewardship

The Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR) recently joined with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the East Foundation to form the Center for Private Land Stewardship. The center will be the hub of education for private landowners and the public, according to a Noble Foundation news release. Learn more from Texas Water Resources Institute here.

On the Road: A Symposium on Water

The Texas Tribune and Texas State University will be hosting a day long symposium on water, March 10 from 8:00 am to 2:45 pm. Topics include life after Proposition 6, the battle over groundwater, strategies for conservation and the poor quality of water along the Texas-Mexico border. Learn more and register for free.

Joe Beal, politically connected engineer, back in the water game

Former LCRA General Manager and groundwater developer, Joe Beal is back in the news with plans to transport water from Bastrop and Lee counties to Travis and Williamson Counties. "It was Beal’s empire-building effort at the river authority in the early 2000s that sent water pipelines shooting into the Hill Country, accelerating suburbia in areas around Dripping Springs" Read more from Statesman.com

Pollinator PowWow Draws Hundreds from Texas and Beyond

Icy roads and freezing rain couldn’t stop more than 200 people from making their way to the second annual Pollinator PowWow in Austin last weekend. The all-day gathering of pollinator advocates and native plant evangelists gathered at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Saturday for a full day of education, enlightenment and wisdom sharing. Read more from Texas Butterfly Ranch here.

Springs: The Canary in a Coal Mine for Groundwater

"Over the past 15 years, I have studied more than 1,000 springs, closely examining the relationship between springs and the health of the aquifer. I have discovered that springs are of inestimable value to plants and wildlife in landscapes where they occur and have also learned that springs continue to be as important to populations today as they were thousands of years ago. We have also found that in many ways, springs are the canary in the coal mine for groundwater sources." Read more from the National Geographic.

Group Formed to Protect Trinity, Edwards Aquifers and Springs

The Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) today announced its formation as a Texas non-­‐profit corporation created to protect these aquifers and their associated springs. In the process, TESPA seeks to bring clarity to the groundwater property rights associated with owning land over the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers and associated springs. Learn more

Texas Wildlife Association to host three-day Women of the Land workshop

This workshop will cover basic skills from chainsaw operation to prescribed fire basics, geared towards female land managers. Interested in building your understanding of some of these important ranch management skills? This could be the workshop for you. Signup deadline is March 13th and space is limited. Details and Registration

Bennett Trust Land Stewardship Conference, April 23 in Kerrville

The second Bennett Trust educational program will take place April 23-24, 2015 at the Inn of the Hills Resort and Conference Center, Kerrville. This first-of-its-kind conference, “Protecting the Legacy of the Edwards Plateau,” will bring the best and wisest, accomplished stewards, visionaries, and legacy-leavers together as educators. Details

The Changing Science of Brush Control for Water Yield

While it was once widely assumed that heavy brush like cedar was keeping rainwater from recharging our streams and groundwater systems, science seems to indicate that it's not quite that simple. When done with care and an eye toward restoration, brush control can be beneficial to ecosystem health. Just be realistic about the likelihood that it will fill your stream or stock pond. Read more from Texas Wildlife Magazine.

Pioneers Youth Leadership Students Receive $24,000 in Scholarships and Cash Awards

Ten high school students in Pioneers Youth Leadership were awarded $24,000 in scholarships and cash awards last week at the Capital Farm Credit Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Competition at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. “Participating in this competition has given me confidence that I can successfully start and run a business in my hometown,” said Steeley Smith. “I was able to learn so much about the positive impacts of rainwater collection through my research,” said Jessica Dong of Knippa. Learn more

TPWD profiles state's least wanted water-hungry invasive species

A recent article in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine profiles some of the biggest problem species invading Texas lakes and waterways, and finds that the damage they are inflicting could cost Texans billions of dollars - and millions of gallons of water - each year. "It's a war, and you are involved." Read more from TPW Magazine.

Get Your Birding On

Learn the basics of birding at the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm. “Birding is good for you physically, mentally and spiritually. You get outside, you use your brain, and it’s about something bigger than you,” says Patsy Inglet of San Antonio. The veteran birder and certified Master Naturalist teaches Introduction to Birding workshops with her birdster husband Tom Inglet. Their next class at the center is 9 a.m. to noon March 28. Learn more

Environment Texas looks at the best and worst project in the State Water Plan

Environment Texas Research and Policy Center has launched a new website - www.OurTexasWater.org highlighting some of the best and worst projects in the State Water Plan. The website features an interactive map where Texans can find projects in their communities that get either a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down for their impact to our rivers, aquifers and natural resources. The website currently gives a thumbs down to the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir in northeast Texas, pumping of the Carrizo Wilcox Aquifer in Bastrop County and a Val Verde County water project which could threaten the Devils River.

Provide Water Supply Tools to Counties

“With supplies depleted by drought, the population growing daily and few large water projects in our immediate future, new development must minimize their water demands to protect the lakes, aquifers, and rivers. The counties surrounding the rapidly growing major cities will play a huge role in how we wisely use or diminish our water supplies and in the end determine the State’s economic attractiveness to the nation.” Read more from Tom Hegemier, chair of the Central Texas Land Water Sustainability Forum.

PEC Board votes in support of groundwater legislation

“Well drillers are locating these gaps in water district jurisdictions and exploiting them for pure profit,” said PEC District 6 Director Larry Landaker, who sponsored the resolution. “What is happening in Hays County through the misuse of the rule of capture is tantamount to the theft of water by one community to serve another. … That volume of water could … create a serious economic impact to the Hill Country communities we serve. Economic impact to the Hill Country is economic impact to PEC.” Read more from PEC.

Stay informed about EP Wells in the Hill Country Trinity Aquifer

As the story of unregulated groundwater in Hays County unfolds, there are two websites worth paying attention to for current information about citizen involvement. Citizen’s Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) and Save Our Wells.

A Tribute to what has been lost to the Pilot Truck Stop in Junction

Many hill country people have been following the Flying J story in Junction; a poster child for ongoing threats to Hill Country rivers due to a lack of rules and oversight. View this video, read final testimony to the City of Junction here.

Friends of Enchanted Rock to host star festival this Saturday, Feb 21

Come on out to Enchanted Rock this weekend to celebrate the stars! The first Enchanted Rock Star Festival will be February 21 at the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg. According to Melissa Mial, event spokesperson, the purpose of the inaugural event is to celebrate Enchanted Rock’s designation as an International Dark Sky Park and Wildlife’s Dark Sky Initiative and increase awareness of the benefits of dark sky friendly lighting. Learn more

We need smart growth

Op-ed by Ron Walton: “I am not against growth but know the importance of being able to provide the infrastructure to support it. Unfortunately, I see a growing tendency however for growth in the area at all cost which, especially in the Hill Country (my specialty as a Hydro-geologist with background in water wells, septics, and geomorphology) I think does a disservice to all current residents like myself who came here recently.” Read more

Drought conditions worsen along Highland Lakes

Preliminary 2014 data shows the drought gripping the Highland Lakes is now the most severe drought the region has experienced since construction of the lakes began in the 1930s. As a direct result of the prolonged record-dry conditions and record-low inflows from the streams and tributaries feeding the Highland Lakes, the “firm yield,” or inventory of water LCRA can provide reliably every year, has been decreased by about 100,000 acre-feet, to 500,000 acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons.) Further reductions in firm yield are possible as the drought continues. Read more

Book explores Central Texas County Courthouses

“As built artifacts, the county courthouses of central Texas tell a compelling story of a particular part of the country over a specific period of time. But more than a mere index of a building type, this project seeks to describe how county courthouses and the squares in which they sit relate to the larger communities that surround them.” Read more from TPR. HCA likes to imagine Hill Country courthouses with native landscaping and rainwater harvesting.

Net Blue Initiative Will Help Communities Pursue Water-Neutral Growth

“Communities need to reevaluate traditional planning approaches if they are to support increasing population and economic expansion in the coming years – particularly in areas with high growth and stressed water supplies,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Read more from the Alliance for Water Efficiency report, "Water Demand Offset Programs Offer a Path to Sustainable Community Development" here.

New Commitment to Bring Back the Monarch

This week the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced what many have noticed for the past 20 years- monarch butterfly numbers are on a precipitous decline. Over the past 25 years an estimated 970 million monarchs have disappeared, largely due to loss of habitat. The Texas Hill Country is an important part of the monarch migration route, and USFWS has prioritized the entire I-35 corridor for reestablishing butterfly habitat. That means planting native milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants. Read more about the efforts to bring monarchs back from the Washington Post

Dripping Springs residents strategize how to stop proposed concrete plant

A plan to build a concrete batch plant northwest of Dripping Springs has created an uproar among some residents. The plant, which would be operated as Dripping Wet Concrete

Upcoming Events


March 26-29 in Brackettville - Advanced Women of the Land Workshop by TWA - Details

March 27-28 in Hunt - "Introduction to Holistic Management and Ecosystem Function" - Part one in HMI's Mitigating Drought with Holistic Management Workshop Series - Details

March 28 in Austin - Native Plant Society Spring Symposium at the Wildflower Center - Details

March 28 in Stonewall – 8th Annual LBJ 100 Bike Tour - Details

March 29 in Johnson City - "Food, Health and the Environment: Why Eating Right Can Save You and the Earth," presented by Ecologist, Dr. G. David Tilman - 4:30 pm at the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City. Details


April 1 in Floresville - Texas Riparian & Stream Ecosystem Workshop – Upper San Antonio River Watershed - Details

April 1 in Austin - "Creating Vibrant Green Cities: Lessons from Seoul South Korea and San Marcos," part of the Imagine Austin Speaker Series - Details

April 4 in Boerne - 25th Annual Cibolo Nature Center Mostly Native Plant Sale (members only pre-sale April 3 from 5-7pm) - Details

April 4 in San Antonio - Rain Barrel Workshop - Details

April 7-9 in Dallas - Rainwater University 2015 by Texas A&M AgriLife - Who should attend: Texas Flood Plain Managers, Landscape Professionals, Engineers, Architects, Homeowners, Business Owners, Builders, School Districts, City, State and Federal Personnel - Details

April 9 in Fredericksburg- Water Conservation Expo, co-hosted by HCA. Details

April 9 - Six-county wildlife program and tour by Texas Agri-Life Extention - Participating counties: Mason, Menard, McCulloch, Llano, Gillespie & Kimble - Details

April 22 in Jourdanton - Agri-Land Workshop - Presentations by HCA's Sky Jones Lewey, Rainwater Harvesting Expert John Kight and more - Details

April 23-24 in Kerrville - The second annual Bennett Land Stewardship: “Keys to Hill Country Living" - Details

April 24-26 in Fredericksburg - 5th Annual Wings Over the Hills Nature Festival - Details

April 24-27 in Marble Falls - 15th Annual Balcones Songbird Festival - Details


May 29 in San Marcos - Addressing Conflict with deer in our communities, hosted by TPWD, TWA and TSU - Details

See more upcoming events

2015 Photo Contest

Runs March 1 - May 31
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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

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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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