A recently released report by the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network examined the current state of conservation and growth in the Hill Country. What he revealed was a region at a crossroads, facing threats to its future.
The report, titled “State of the Hill Country,” established a baseline for eight key parameters by which conservation and growth could be assessed. He determined that booming population growth, sprawling development, groundwater depletion, climate change, extreme droughts and floods, and a unique set of political challenges threaten the natural resources that define the county region. Hill – resources on which millions of people depend. On Monday, March 7, the THCCN hosted a webinar to discuss the study, with guest speakers including Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell, Precinct 3.
“Western Hays County is primarily developed on the back of our local groundwater,” Commissioner Shell said. “If we were to experience a similar drought today [like we did in 2010], we would have emergencies all over the county. If we can’t find better ways to handle this, I can see some very difficult times ahead. »
“This report shows it perfectly – the breathtaking vistas, natural spaces, clear waters, abundant wildlife, starry skies and small town charms of Hill Country should not be taken for granted,” Katherine said. Romans, Executive Director of Hill Country Alliance and Chair THCCN. “The choices we collectively make now will determine whether the region and its people survive and thrive, or whether we willfully live beyond the means and carrying capacity of this place we call home.”
The eight parameters used for the hill condition report were:
Population growth in unincorporated areas. Rapid population growth outside of existing municipal areas, coupled with a lack of county land use tools, has resulted in land fragmentation, loss of ecological connectivity and function, and incompatible land uses. land, ultimately leading to negative impacts on water quality and quantity, biodiversity and night sky visibility.
Conserved Lands. Natural preserves, working farms and ranches, and public lands clean and store the Hill Country’s water supply and provide wildlife habitat, while preserving space for residents and visitors. Less than 5% of the Hill Country has been preserved to date.
Landscaped grounds. Developed lands are characterized by an impermeable cover, which increases runoff, decreases infiltration, increases contamination and causes flash flooding. Currently, an average of 7% of the Hill Country is developed, with much higher percentages in some counties.
Blank feeds. The Hill Country is home to the most pristine waterways of any region in the state, but they are increasingly under threat from the discharge of treated sewage from the region’s growing population. These pristine waterways support the region’s vibrant tourism and recreation economies and provide known value to the lands around them, both public and private.
Water consumption per capita. A growing population places increased demands on a limited water supply, with some regions using an unsustainable amount of water. A better understanding of demand and consumption trends will help inform strategies to maintain a clean water supply.
Spring stream. The springs provide critical baseflow and are needed to support the Hill Country’s unique flora and fauna, recreational activities like fishing and swimming, and drinking water for millions of Texans. Increasing water demand and climate change are putting pressure on this limited but essential resource.
Night sky visibility.
Understandably, dark skies are vital to the region’s quality of life, local tourist economies, and wildlife. However, they are endangered in the Hill Country, due to increased development.
Conservation investment. The region has received considerable support for public funding of land conservation, but it is not keeping pace with the region’s increasing gross domestic product.
The Texas Hill Country Conservation Network, a partnership of dozens of organizations working in the 18-county region of central Texas to expand natural resource protection through collaborative conservation and promoting better ways to adapt to the growth.
“This report is a call to action for sustained collaborative efforts to secure the valuable assets provided by the land, water and sky of Hill Country,” said Jennifer Walker, deputy director of the National Wildlife Federation. for the Texas Coast and Water Program and Vice President of THCCN. “The window of opportunity to protect and maintain the natural treasures of Hill Country will likely close within our generation. Understanding how to balance development and conservation in the service of these goals is key to this sustainability.
“I believe there is some hope,” Shell said. “It is steps like this that will allow us to find solutions to the problems that affect us.”
For a full copy of the State of the Hills report or to learn more about the THCCN, visit: ourtxhillcountry.org.