"Ten water conservation advocates have teamed up with Austin photographer Charles Kruvand to produce a gorgeous book about Texas waterways." — Glenn Dromgoole, San Angelo Times
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In ten impassioned essays, veteran Texas environmental advocates and conservation professionals step outside their roles as lawyers, lobbyists, administrators, consultants, and researchers to write about water. Their personal stories of what the springs, rivers, bottomlands, bayous, marshes, estuaries, bays, lakes, and reservoirs mean to them and to our state come alive in the landscape photography of Charles Kruvand. Allied with the Texas Living Waters Project (a joint education and policy initiative of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others), editor Ken Kramer joins his fellow activists in a call to keep rivers flowing, to protect wildlife habitat, and to save tax dollars by using water efficiently and sustainably (texaswatermatters.org/). INSIDE THIS BOOK:Introduction: the Living Waters of Texas—Ken KramerWhere the First Raindrop Falls—David K. LangfordSpringing to Life: Keeping the Waters Flowing—Dianne WassenichHooked on Rivers—Myron J. HessFalling in Love with Bottomlands: Waters and Forests of East Texas—Janice BezansonOn the Banks of the Bayous: Preserving Nature in an Urban Environment—Mary Ellen WhitworthA Taste of the Marsh—Susan Raleigh KaderkaBays and Estuaries of Texas: An Ephemeral Treasure?—Ben F. Vaughan IIIRio Grande: Fragile Lifeline in the Desert—Mary E. KellyLeaving a Water Legacy for Texas—Ann Thomas HamiltonTexas Water Politics: Forty Years of Going with the Flow—Ken Kramer
"Ten water conservation advocates have teamed up with Austin photographer Charles Kruvand to produce a gorgeous book about Texas waterways." — Glenn Dromgoole, San Angelo Times
Where the First Raindrop Falls
David K. Langford
BEFORE Lyndon B. Johnson was a politician, he was a child of the land. Growing up in the Texas Hill Country amid grazing sheep, cattle, and sparkling, clear springs, he inherently understood the relationship among sky, land, and water. Like most Texans, LBJ felt a strong kinship to the land because, since the days of the Republic, our lives and our livelihoods have been shaped by the diverse landscape that characterizes our home.
Although the former president was not part of my biological family, he was part of a large extended family of clannish, pioneering souls determined to eke a living from the Hill Country's rock-strewn terrain. We were not kin by blood, but we were bound by shared experiences.
My biological family is like the ancient live oaks that dot the Texas Hill Country. For as long as there are memories, we have sunk our roots into the shallow soil and battled to survive in a place whose beauty belies its harshness.
Seven generations of my family have called Gillespie County and Kendall County home. From the beginning, my family has had a love affair, for lack of a better phrase, with water. The Hill Country can be unforgiving when you're trying to coax a living from the soil. Water was the one thing that made the land hospitable—and offered the promise of a future.
On one side of my family tree, my great-great-grandfather, Carl Hilmar Guenther, came from Germany, bringing with him the dream of milling wheat and corn. When he settled here in 1851, he chose the banks of Live Oak Creek near present-day Fredericksburg as the site for his first mill. For ten years, he relied on that burbling stream to turn the waterwheel and the grinding stones. Settlers were hungry for flour and meal. The business thrived. Searching for larger markets and more water power, he moved the business, known as Pioneer Flour Mills, to its current location on the San Antonio River, where it still produces the foodstuff to feed families in many states and nations.
Saving the water and the soil must start where the first raindrop falls.
—Lyndon B. Johnson, 1947
On another branch of our family tree was my great-grandfather, Alfred Giles. He was a noted architect. As his business thrived, he sought to invest in a tangible asset—land. In 1886 he purchased the ranch where my family still lives. The first house, built in 1887 with thick walls of limestone and lumber, was situated a stone's throw from a bubbling spring. That little spring provided the water for the homestead, including the garden and the livestock at the barns and pens. It still does today for my cousin's family, who continue to live in the original Giles house.
A similar spring supplied not only the drinking water but also some of my earliest memories. By the time I came along, my grandparents lived in the ranch house a couple of miles away from the one Giles built. In the summertime, its thick limestone walls kept the house cool, even when you could fry eggs on the white rocks outside. After a hard morning of playing with cousins or helping with chores, it was a treat to step inside the front door. When your eyes adjusted to the shadowy darkness, the first thing you saw was the table in the corner of the kitchen and the promise of refreshment. In the middle of the table, my family kept a two-gallon bucket, probably an old milk pail, filled to the rim with cool spring water. If you were thirsty, you plunged the communal dipper into the bucket and drank in the pure flavor of nature. It didn't need sugar, carbonation, or artificial color. It was simply delicious.
That bucket provided my first taste of responsibility, too. As the second-oldest of thirteen first cousins, I became the "co-bucket meister" as soon as I was old enough to toddle to the spring and back. I don't know how many times my cousin Boots and I trekked to the spring to fill that bucket with the water that quenched our family's thirst. If we spilled the contents because we were horsing around or pounding each other in a childhood battle, we had to pick up the bucket and make the journey again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Our family depended on that water. Each trip etched the outline of the bucket handle into my palm and the importance of water into my subconscious. Although we had plenty to drink, water was not something to be taken lightly.
Those trips to the spring demonstrated other things to me. In something as simple as the life cycle of a "toad-frog," I could see the interconnectedness of the water and the land. It was obvious that what happened with one affected the other. If a farmer plowed ground, even on the slightest of slopes, and didn't terrace it correctly, the topsoil from the field washed into the creek during the next hard rain. If rain fell on bare, hard ground, it ran off much more quickly than rain that fell on a lush pasture where the plants "caught" the raindrops. If creek banks were stripped of vegetation, Mother Nature's filtering system was disturbed and the water entering the creek carried silt and debris, clouding the pristine creek and filling its bed with detrimental sediment.
I don't remember anyone explaining the relationship between land and water to me. To a kid who spent a lot of time in the country, it was a fact as immutable as the sun rising in the east. For many years, I took this valuable knowledge for granted because I assumed everybody understood the relationship between land and water the way I—and generations of rural people—did.
Although I had worked in the public policy arena since 1987 and witnessed firsthand the transformation of rural Texas to urban Texas, I was reluctant to believe that the majority of people were ignorant of the natural world. My final reality check came in early 2003. Although I had recently retired as executive vice president of the Texas Wildlife Association, I was asked to attend a water conference in San Angelo to gather background information that would help TWA define its then nonexisting position on water policy.
Experts had come in from around the state. Each one offered a different solution to solve Texas' looming water crisis. Desalinization! Xeriscape! Water marketing! Household conservation! Water harvesting! Rationing! Interbasin transfers! Pipelines! Litigation! Dams! Icebergs! Ad infinitum.
While all the solutions had some degree of merit, they were all missing something vitally important. I just couldn't put my finger on the missing piece until one presenter took the podium. Armed with compelling charts, graphs, and substantial research funding, she stood before the crowd and announced that bare ground helps recharge aquifers faster and more successfully than ground covered with diverse vegetation! Her findings were in complete opposition with what I'd spent a lifetime observing. While her research supported her hypothesis, her hypothesis did not line up with nature. It was a perfect example of a researcher's modeling not following basic ecological principles.
Her experimental design—and that of most of the other experts—did not take into account the relationship between the stewardship of the land and the quantity and quality of water available to the rest of Texas. In that room of water policy experts, I realized just how rampant natural resource illiteracy was, and I came out of retirement with a mission. Policymakers had to understand the relationship between land stewardship and water if the state was ever going to have a sustainable water policy.
At that point in time, experts were overlooking the foundation that could stabilize the quality and quantity of Texas' long-term water supplies: the condition of the rural watershed. Land stewards across Texas were shaping our natural resources using a variety of tools including, but not limited to, rotational grazing, brush management, prescribed burning, erosion management, reseeding with native species, and restoring wetlands and riparian areas. Not including the stewardship ethos in the ongoing discussions about water was akin to building a boat without a bottom—it was a pointless exercise. Without optimum land stewardship, not a single additional drop of water will get downstream, into aquifers, or ever reach our sensitive bays and estuaries.
Defining the mission was easy; carrying it out was not. The general public, of which our leaders are a part, knew less about land and water than I thought. A recent poll conducted by EnviroMedia showed that only 32 percent of Americans "definitely know" the natural source of their drinking water. In this case, the pollsters simply asked the name of the lake or river that was the main water source for a given city.
The rationale behind the poll was that, if people know the source of the water, they are more likely to conserve it. In other words, people can see that "Lake Drinking Water" is a finite source, while the "Ever-flowing Tap" is seemingly infinite. Interestingly, the pollsters' choice of questions showed that they didn't really understand the water cycle either. I'm not sure how they thought that water got into the rivers and lakes in the first place. Of course, this is just one example, but it demonstrates the challenges inherent in educating people about the natural world and our water supply's bona fide source.
To complicate things further, the people I was trying to help didn't know my circle of friends either—the land stewards of Texas. So I set out to make introductions. First was J. David Bamberger.
Almost forty years ago, Bamberger bought more than 5,000 acres of hardscrabble, rock-strewn land near Johnson City. Despite its Hill Country location, it was not paradise. It was bone dry. Springs did not flow. Creeks were empty. Ashe juniper (cedar) was rampant. Undeterred by naysayers, Bamberger voluntarily began actively managing the land. His goal: reestablishing balance in his part of the ecosystem. Today, grass grows where there once was bare ground. Many wildlife species thrive in the diverse habitat, which Ashe juniper no longer dominates. And, amazingly, water now bubbles from the springs—so much water in fact that not a single water well is needed on the entire ranch. All of the ranch's water needs, which include supporting a sizable conference center and nature tourism/hunting operations, are met using water from these once dry springs.
In addition to flowing springs, Bamberger's voluntary land management strategies have reinvigorated the ranch's creeks. They are now year-round creeks. Day in and day out, the creeks carry many acre-feet of clear, clean water downstream via the Pedernales River, on to the Colorado River, and eventually feeding much-needed fresh water into the highly productive marshes and estuaries of Matagorda Bay. All along the way, thirsty cities, industry, wildlife, and endangered species relentlessly compete for the surplus water that Bamberger's efforts generate.
By taking care of his land, Bamberger has become a water supplier—a water rancher. Although he is providing a precious resource, he isn't enjoying all the possible benefits from his contributions. Downstream users, river authorities, and municipalities are staking claim to the additional water, reaping his harvest, and pirating Bamberger's potential, deserved rewards. This is a perverse system of disincentives; the beneficiaries are seeking to profit, while the supplier receives no compensation for his production.
Despite the unfairness of the current situation, many more land stewards are making a difference for water all over the state using only land management practices. In Runnels County, on the edge of the High Plains, Billy Don and Nolo Gene Davis have reclaimed 2,300 acres of dryland cotton farmland and restored it into a native prairie. Using every conservation tool at their disposal, the Davises vowed to capture every drop of rain that fell on their land. Through the years, they have seen springs emerge, sporadic creeks begin to run continuously, wildlife return, and wetlands develop. For the first time in one hundred years, they have witnessed ducks nesting on their land.
This may not sound like much to the uninformed, but it is a tremendous transformation in one lifetime. As a child, Billy Don remembers using a grain scoop to clean up the topsoil that had been blown from the cotton fields into his family's living room. Today, on the same stretch of land, it is almost impossible to find a patch of bare ground.
Why do these land stewards, who are only two examples of the thousands in Texas, spend their time and money to improve that part of the earth fate has placed in their care? Because they understand a basic concept: we cannot make more rain, but, if the rural watershed is in excellent condition, we can certainly make more out of what we have. They know that by improving the watershed's condition, we can replenish both surface and underground water sources and ensure adequate instream and environmental flows. And they know that doing good things for the land, not with wells, reservoirs, or lawsuits, does good things for our water supply too. More water "created" by land stewardship benefits all Texas' citizens, its landscape, and its wildlife.
All ground and surface water supplies originate with the rain that falls on the land and is captured by a complex, large-scale process involving plants, soil, and animals. When the process functions optimally, floods are reduced, aquifers are replenished, and water is released more slowly and steadily into streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually our bays and estuaries. If the land is in good condition, the quality and quantity of water—surface and underground—available to citizens reflect that condition.
Well-managed land is the greatest water supply enhancement tool on the planet. With adequate and appropriate vegetative cover, land is Mother Nature's sponge. In Texas, open space covers almost 150 million acres. A sponge of this magnitude cannot be overlooked when the objective is making the most of every drop that falls from the sky.
Interestingly, even very astute people can develop tunnel vision that prevents them from seeing the bigger picture. Case in point: water harvesting. In most water plans, a great deal of space is dedicated to water harvesting, collecting the rainwater that falls on roofs—roofs that are generally measured in square feet. Don't get me wrong. This is definitely good policy. But these same plans ignore the millions of acres of "unroofed" rangeland that are the foundation of the region's water catchment. Why? The rainwater harvested from rural grasslands, savannahs, forests, and wetlands is not as easily visible as that collected from urban rooftops.
Voluntary land stewardship is the logical place for water management to begin because land stewardship affects the water supply at its origins, not just at its destination. Historically, when we have discussed water policy in Texas, we have approached the debate from the demand side. We have asked, How much water does industry, agriculture, and municipalities need? How much water can we pump from our aquifers? How much more water will we need as Texas' population doubles in the coming decades?
Today, most of the questions center on whether or not demand will eventually outstrip supply. The primary questions we should be wrestling with are these: How can we make the most of the rain that falls? How can we improve the supply-enhancement qualities of the land?
Some will argue that we should build new reservoirs, beefing up our ability to store water. Others will argue that we should build recharge dams, beefing up our ability to capture water in our aquifers. I would argue that first we must encourage good land management to maximize the impact of the rain that falls. If we maximize the effects of the rainwater, then we can answer the pressing questions of demand much more easily.
Because it makes so much sense, voluntary land stewardship is gaining recognition and being used tentatively as a water management tool. It was included in our 2007 Texas State Water Plan and in the Governor's Environmental Flows Advisory Committee's Report to the 80th Legislature, and it was codified into state law as part of the passage of Senate Bill 3 in 2007. Additionally, land stewardship is a major component of water supply enhancement efforts that are occurring across our state, including the Leon River Restoration Project, the North Concho River Project, the Nueces Basin Headwaters Stewardship Project, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, protection of aquifer recharge areas by the City of Austin and the City of San Antonio, and the Trinity River Initiative, to name a few.
Land stewardship's benefit to our water supplies is further recognized nationwide, and worldwide. For example, New York City saved several billion dollars by purchasing development rights upstream rather than building more water treatment facilities. France's Perrier provides incentives for land stewards to keep their land intact upstream of the springs that are the source of its product now found around the globe. Even in New York City and France, far-thinking people are beginning to realize that, when land stewards do good things for the land, it results in good things for water.
Excerpted from The Living Waters of Texas by Ken Kramer, Charles Kruvand. Copyright © 2010 Texas A&M University Press. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
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“When you read this book you are hearing from some of the most influential conservation leaders in Texas about the single most important resource issue of our time: water. They may have been more than a little battered by the Texas water wars but they are unbowed and you can see why. Inspiring and heartfelt this collection of essays frames an important period in Texas water history and is a must read for water hustlers and tree huggers, alike!”—Larry McKinney, Executive Director, Harte Research Institute
Larry McKinney, Executive Director, Harte Research Institute
“For those of us dwelling in expansive urban areas, Charles Kruvand''s wondrous views of our Texas waterways provide needed refreshment for our eyes and our souls. Through his art, we can, in admittedly a limited way, partake of natural areas that all too easily elude us in our day-to-day affairs.” — Ben Breard, Owner and Director, AfterImage Gallery
KEN KRAMER is the director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. He has an extensive record of involvement in water and other environmental issues, serving on advisory committees for state and local agencies. Awarded for his work by the governor of Texas, the Sportsmen Conservationists of Texas, the League of Women Voters, and the Nature Conservancy, he lives in Austin. His PhD in political science is from Rice University.
CHARLES KRUVAND is an Austin-based photographer whose work has been featured throughout Texas, including at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the Wichita Falls Museum of Art, the Heard Natural Science Museum, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen. His photographs are also in the corporate collections of Kodak, Texas Instruments, Frito-Lay, and Citigroup. He is the recipient of the 2010 Art in Service to the Environment Award by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
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Pads in, and calmly sits down.
Her paws sent up shoots of dirt as they scraped and halted.
He pads in
*skids to a stop*
This is a magnificent book! Charles Kruvand's photographs are breathtaking!