PHOTO Development in the San Marcos River watershed such as Texas State University’s massive new Performing Arts Center, shown here under construction on University Drive, “comes with a price, and that price is a decline in the quality of water of the springs and river,” two Texas State biology professors said this week in a letter to the San Marcos City Council. MERCURY PHOTO by JAMIE MALDONADO
by BRAD ROLLINS
Two Texas State University professors are disavowing a San Marcos council member’s contention that their research indicates responsibly developed land can improve the quality of water runoff into the San Marcos River.
In response to a San Marcos Mercury candidate questionnaire in October, council member Shane Scott said data collected by the professors indicates “that the right kind of development actually protects our river better than being left in a natural state.”
Scott elaborated on the comment later at a debate and in an interview, saying vegetated swales, water retention ponds and other filtration systems have been shown to reduce the amount of E. coli swept into the river at certain test points by at least 50 percent. Scott serves on the Upper San Marcos Coordinating Group, a stakeholders board overseeing the study of water quality in the watershed of Sink Creek, the uppermost tributary of the San Marcos River.
“The way our geology works around here, when it rains, the water comes very quickly across the landscape and enters the river very quickly. The study was about wildlife and all the wildlife that we have. Their feces rushes into the river very quickly. Scientific studies show that development that captures this water through filtration systems literally cuts it into half, if not more,” Scott said at the San Marcos League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 22.
In a letter dated Nov. 27 to Scott and his council colleagues, two researchers who regularly present water quality data to the Upper San Marcos group said Scott’s statement is “a mistaken or uninformed interpretation of information you received.”
“We never presented evidence supporting your statement that development protects our river better than being left” undeveloped, states the letter, signed by assistant professor Benjamin Schwartz and associate professor Weston Nowlin. “In all of our presentations, one of the biggest take-home messages is that development in the Upper San Marcos River watershed comes with a price, and that price is a decline in the quality of water of the springs and river.”
Neither Schwartz nor Nowlin could immediately be reached this afternoon to discuss their research. Their letter did not include specific examples of their findings.
Asked about the letter this afternoon, Scott said he remains certain that Nowlin presented data at a meeting this summer that indicated E. coli bacteria was reduced in some areas where new real estate development provides better filtration and reduces habitat for feral pigs and other wildlife whose feces contaminate the river.
He suggested that Schwartz and Nowlin are ideologically motivated to soft-pedal evidence that could have the effect of encouraging land development.
“It’s not a wrong interpretation. It’s very true. Just because they don’t like it doesn’t make it wrong. Just because they don’t want to hear it, doesn’t make it wrong. Just because they don’t want people to consider the possibility that development can be beneficial to the environment, doesn’t make it wrong,” Scott said.
He said, “I have no agenda. I went in objectively and heard the presentations and that is what they said.”
CORRECTION 11/29/12: This story originally identified Schwartz and Nowlin as biology professors. They are professors in Texas State University’s biology department, but Schwartz’s specialty is karst hydrogeology.
CORRECTION 11/30/12: The story originally misstated the relationship between Schwartz, Nowlin and the Meadows Center. Schwartz and Nowlin are faculty in Texas State’s biology department, a separate entity from the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, formerly the Texas Rivers Systems Institute.Email | Print