San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 8th, 2010
Spring Lake water protection moves forward

020810springlake3San Marcos, Hays County and Texas State are working with the River Systems Institute on a watershed protection plan for Spring Lake. Photos by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Three local public entities recently announced a plan intended to preserve water quality and quantity at Spring Lake.

Last month, Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) placed her signature with those of San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Texas State University President Denise Trauth on a watershed protection plan amendment to a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU, created in 2006, formalized an intention to “promote and facilitate planning for an innovative, collaborative effort to provide an environmentally-sensitive, contiguous green space from Spring Lake Hills, along Spring Lake and the San Marcos River, to Interstate 35,” in the language of the document.

The recent amendment to the MOU formalizes the intention to create, in the words of the document, “a watershed protection plan for the Upper San Marcos Watershed inclusive of the Sink Creek, Sessom Creek, Willow Creek and Purgatory Creek Watersheds.”

Texas State River Systems Institute (RSI) Program Manager Eric Mendelman said it is too early to precisely determine the nature and scope of the watershed protection plan, though he suggested some possibilities.

“It could mean more green space within the city and the county, it could mean more stewardship practices out in neighborhoods, down Ranch Road 12 all the way to the junction,” Mendelman said. “For developers, it could be more controls on the runoff that comes off of new construction, it could be stronger storm water protections. It could be more coordinated education program for students about their impact on the river, and for landowners, their use of pesticides and lawn care chemicals and the variety of things that are put down in the ground. So it kind of runs the gamut. A lot of that stuff’s already going on. It’s not well-coordinated among the three entities.”

Such plans are often used to restore impaired watersheds. In this case, the three entities want to use the plan as a preventive measure. The RSI, which is spearheading the effort, is looking for possible sources of funding for the creation of the watershed protection plan. Mendelman declined to estimate how much the plan would cost, but said his organization would seek private and public grants and use volunteers.

Members of the San Marcos River Foundation and San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance will assist in developing the plan. The RSI had requested the watershed protection amendment to the MOU, which does not obligate the county or the city to provide funding to create the plan. Mendelman said he hopes the plan will be completed within five years, after which the stakeholders involved in creating it might be eligible for state and federal funding for various watershed-related programs

City of San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melanie Howard also declined to estimate the cost of developing a watershed protection plan. Howard said implementation of a plan may involve more trash control measures and buffer zones around the San Marcos River and its tributaries, along with enhancement of vegetation growth around those areas to improve the health of the river. Howard said two major problems facing the river are sedimentation and littering, which, she said, a watershed protection plan may help ameliorate.

“In our river, we have a lot of sedimentation,” Howard said. “I think that’s one of the bigger problems in the San Marcos River. And so, sediment is one of the first things we want to look at and figure out where this is all coming from — why are we still getting sediment in the river? So that’ll probably be one of our priorities … it builds up on the bottom, so, over the years, the river has lost a lot of depth. It’s just not scouring any more. We’ve got five flood control dams that are on the tributaries of the San Marcos, and so we don’t get those deep, scouring floods anymore. And so, that makes it even more important to control the sediment that’s coming in the river, because it’s been building up. You’ve seen that sandbar at Sewell Park, and then that one right above University Drive Bridge. So, those are results of that.”

The watershed protection plan would include the area ranging from the San Marcos River’s headwaters to the junction on the way to Wimberley, south slightly beyond IH-35, eastward including the area that drains into the river, and north including the Sink Creek Watershed.

The 2006 MOU originally formalized the three entities’ intention acquire and improve approximately 250 acres of land for Spring Lake Preserve, which they purchased in 2007 and are still improving with trails and other features. The improvements should be finished within a year. Spring Lake Preserve, which is partially on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, includes some steep trails, a wetlands area, and vegetation such as Live Oak, Cedar Elm, Ash Juniper, Mexican Plum, Mountain Laurel. Howard said Spring Lake Preserve is also home to a pair of large predators she said are not likely to be seen — though she cautioned people to avoid visiting the area alone, especially at night.

“We’ve got mountain lions,” Howard said. “There’s a mother and her cub that have been seen there, and I think she also wanders to our other green park as well, so that’s pretty exciting. I need to get some signs up, I need people to know that they’re out there. It’s a wonderful thing to have, but … Nothing has happened yet, but really, no wildlife is safe, right? You don’t want to tempt fate.”

The city, the university and the Nature Conservancy collaborated to buy the property for Spring Lake Preserve, which was the site originally proposed for the hotel and conference center now located near IH-35 at McCarty Lane. The Spring Lake Preserve area was zoned years earlier for residential development and could have been the site of hundreds of homes.

City voters approved a bond proposition in November 2005 to spend up to $2 million to buy the property, then owned by Terry P. Gilmore. Hays County commissioners allocated $700,000 from county bond funds for the preserve. In December 2005, the Nature Conservancy bought the land for $5.1 million from Gilmore, and, in January 2006, the county and the city reached an agreement with the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land, pledging to pursue grants and donations to repay the cost.

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos), in whose precinct lies Spring Lake Preserve, was a key player in creating the green space.

“I’m glad to see the relationship growing and expanding, and I’m happy to see that we’re going to work together to continue to protect our springs and to make sure that these watersheds are properly planned out, and make sure that our water resources and our spingflows are protected for the future,” Conley said.

According to a report recently released by the Texas State Data Center, the population of San Marcos was 34,733 at the 2000 Census, climbing to 52,705 in January 2008 and 55,013 in January 2009, an increase of 58 percent from 2000.

“The city is growing, recreational use is growing, the use of the river is growing, the use of the watershed, more development, et cetera et cetera, so in order to preserve and to help keep the San Marcos River clean and a good place to be, a good place to visit, maintain the habitat, at some point (a watershed protection plan) just really needs to be done,” Howard said. “It’s done all over the country. It’s very common.”

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(Editor’s note: The above has been revised to clarify that Melanie Howard is the Watershed Protection Manager for the City of San Marcos.)

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6 thoughts on “Spring Lake water protection moves forward

  1. “San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melanie Howard”

    I must be missing something here because it is not apparent as to who Melanie Howard works for. Is there some legal entity called the San Marcos Watershed or does Melanie work for the University under the RSI? Who appointed Melanie to be the manager of this project? Is there some public board, an elected official or some other group besides the Greenbelt Alliance and the San Marcos River Foundation which has any interest or input in this project?

  2. Key to understanding this article is the fact that no Plan has yet been written. The examples given in the article are the kinds of actions that other watershed plans have included. The process will start soon with gathering landowners and stakeholders, probably within the coming year, to talk about the watershed and what can be done to improve runoff, or prevent it from getting worse. And educating people who live in the watershed about water quality issues will be part of the process. These kinds of watershed plans are collaborative, mapped out among the stakeholders and landowners, so that the plan will have measurable results. It is hoped that it will be a plan that participants suggest, to deal with specific problems that are found on that watershed. For the past two years, SMRF has been a stakeholder on a Plum Creek Watershed Plan that found that feral hog damage to water quality was pretty severe, so they are having annual workshops for landowners about the best ways to control feral hogs. There is one coming up Feb. 23, if anyone is interested.

  3. Charles, Melanie Howard works for the City of San Marcos. If I recall correctly, the Watershed Protection Manager is part of the Community Services Department under the Parks & Recreation Division. She was likely placed in charge of this issue because she is the primary person between the entities that are party to the MOU with knowledge of watershed protection AND the regulatory ability to enforce (and therefore knows what realistically can be enforced). I’ve been around these types of plans in several other jurisdictions–I can confirm Dianne’s assertion that the process will be highly collaborative and involve folks from every end of the land development & management spectrum.

  4. We are on the leading edge of what will be a long, detailed, very collaborative process. The goal is to keep the water flowing clean and clear as it supplies the San Marcos River and the Edwards Aquifer. There is plenty to learn, share and decide in the months and years ahead. But there is little doubt that we need to do this and do it right and pass it forward. Thanks goes to our leaders for appreciating the need and taking action; thanks to Sean Batura and San Marcos Local News.

  5. Not to be negative but I always feel skeptical and leery when I see the university involved in water conservation matters. Some of my suspicions are based on rumors, for example -unmetered water sucked out of the aquifer/Springlake for their power plant and that the silt buildup in the river can be linked to their construction projects. Other causes for my concern are real observations of their watering practices with poorly placed sprinkler sysytems and excessive watering and seeing them lay a huge pipe down by the cypress tress at the falls about 15 yearsa go..

    If anyone can address the rumor parts, I would appreciate it.

    Otherwise, I hope this collaborative effort will extend beyond this project, and all entities involved will take notice of their daily practices that affect the Aquifer and river. This project sounds like it has the potential to actually get something done!

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