News From the Network
Hill Country Land, Water, Sky, and Natural Infrastructure Plan
2023 Op-ed Series: Natural Systems are Vital Infrastructure
In this series, members of the Network dive in deeper on how crucial natural systems are to the future of thriving Hill Country communities. All of the following editorials are available for republishing, with credit to authors and the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network. Please share widely with your readers and friends.
In the Hill Country, we are seeing dense development encroaching upon the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, covering recharge features with impervious roofs and pavement that reduce groundwater recharge and intensify flooding. But it doesn’t have to be like this. It is time to move beyond these short-sighted development strategies and instead utilize natural infrastructure in our built environments.
Yet, open spaces continue to be converted for human use, further reducing habitat for the Golden-cheeked Warbler. At the same time, the Ashe juniper, which helps mitigate the ravages of flood waters, continues to be targeted to make way for more roads and buildings in Central Texas. The Natural Infrastructure Plan highlights ways to conserve open space for the benefit of all Hill Country residents, including native wildlife.
As the money begins to trickle in, we would do well to remember much of the infrastructure we need to invest in is already here. It is the Hill Country itself. It is beautiful, and it works wonders for water. We need to better care for it.
The principles of a healthy functioning ecosystem – diversity, connection, communication, collaboration – are also the foundations of a healthy and optimized human community. By recognizing the interdependence of human well-being and ecological health, we empower communities to collaborate, envision, and ensure a protected and connected Hill Country ecosystem for current and future generations.
Our ability to gaze into infinity with the naked eye serves as a needed reminder of just how small we really are in the bigger scheme of things. Seeing into infinity also helps us reflect upon our actual size, and what big messes we can create. It would be all too easy for this universal view of creation to disappear, bit by little bit. As Texans, we are obliged to take responsibility to care for and preserve this often forgotten, but important piece of natural infrastructure.
It is time to recognize that our environment provides natural structures that can serve the same purpose without moving earth and pouring concrete. This natural infrastructure does not require construction, but it definitely requires protection. Natural infrastructure refers to land, watersheds, vegetation, and aquifers that can provide innumerable public benefits such as drinking water, wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, food and fiber, and recreational opportunities.
New Plan Provides a Shared Vision for Preserving the Iconic Texas Hill Country
DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas – A new report released this month by the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network (the Network) shines a spotlight on the need for investing in conservation as Central Texas grows. The Hill Country Land, Water, Sky and Natural Infrastructure Plan provides a data-driven vision for conservation of our region’s most important and defining natural resources. The 18-county Hill Country stretches from Austin to San Antonio and west to Uvalde and Junction, and includes three of the top ten fastest growing counties in the country. As the population grows, impacts are being felt in the form of increasing pressure on groundwater resources, land fragmentation and loss of natural areas, and light pollution that clouds the view of the stars at night. With these challenges in mind, conservation partners joined forces to create a plan for proactively protecting the natural resources so central to the identity of the Hill Country. Click to view 6/28/23 press release
2022 Op-ed Series: State of the Hill Country
In this series, members of the Network dive in deeper on each metric to show how they apply to individual Hill Country communities. All of the following editorials are available for republishing, with credit to authors and the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network. Please share widely with your readers and friends.
As the new State of the Hill Country Report illustrates, the Hill Country population has increased by 50% since 1990, with most of this growth occurring along the I-35 corridor. The fastest growing counties are Hays County with 195% growth, and both Comal and Kendall Counties with 176% growth. These are three of the five fastest growing counties in the entire United States.
In Kendall County, the City of Boerne has enacted an award-winning Unified Development Code to address the negative impacts of development on the natural environment.
Anyone who is familiar with the natural areas of the Texas Hill Country will attest to their beauty and wondrous nature. Crystal clear spring-fed streams, steep canyons and bluffs, majestic forests, and wildflower-laden savannas dotted with oak trees are common sites in this region.
These lands boast long and distinctive histories, beginning with Indigenous peoples living off the land and its abundant wildlife and establishing sacred sites at the springs.
After visiting Gruene recently and encountering the explosion of new housing developments along the old rural roads leading to downtown, I was further disheartened to read that 252 duplex units on 22 acres are “coming soon.” I was left wondering how much more pressure can Gruene, New Braunfels, and all of the Texas Hill Country withstand before significant cracks begin to emerge—compromising their value forever.
Water is an integral part of the Hill Country fabric, and it is embodied in the rivers and springs that make this region special. It is also the single most limiting factor in the Hill Country. The region’s population is growing rapidly and, according to a comprehensive new study from the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network, there simply isn’t enough water available from traditional sources to match current consumption patterns. We need to urgently rethink how we capture water—and how we consume it.
Fighting to protect water quality in Texas Hill Country waterways is nothing new. I had the privilege to watch, learn from, and help my parents back in the early 1980s as they raised awareness and organized opposition to keep wastewater out of the Nueces River.
What makes the Texas Hill Country unique? In my mind, it comes down to one thing: groundwater. It is impossible to overstate the importance of groundwater to this precious region, because without it, the Hill Country would not be the region we know and love.
Protecting the night sky is not just about the stars, as magnificent as the sight of them might be.
In Hays County, the fastest growing county in Texas and in the country for that matter, we’re working to counteract the conventional view that more people and more buildings automatically means more light and more light pollution.
We live in a remarkable place with beautiful resources, wonderful people, and amazing opportunities. People want to live here. They want to experience the quality of life that our region provides. They want to swim in the rivers and creeks, take in the views from the hilltops, and breathe clean air—and at the same time, have access to good jobs, affordable homes, low taxes, and a safe place to raise families.
Unfortunately, without careful attention, this growth will negatively affect all the things we cherish and that drew us to this region in the first place.