EAHCP Steward - July-August 2018 - www.EAHCPSteward.org
The Comal Springs is a place of many beginnings. It is the source of the cool waters of the Comal River. The City of New Braunfels grew up around the picturesque site. And archaeologists think that the first native settlers made their home there as far back as 10,000 years ago. Today, another group has moved onto the property to create an environmental and educational jewel for the region. The hopes are high that this new beginning will be a source of community pride far into the future.
“The Headwaters at the Comal is a nonprofit organization dedicated to converting the 16-acre site of what was an old New Braunfels Utilities’ (NBU) warehouse and fleet facility into a place where people can learn, have fun and experience nature and the history here as well,” said the organization’s Managing Director Nancy Pappas. “This is an historically important and environmentally sensitive piece of property, so our work is being carefully planned and carried out by a great team of professionals.”
After deliberating with New Braunfels citizens, the New Braunfels Utilities decided it would move forward with the project and pick up half of the $25 million price tag. NBU then created the nonprofit to raise the remainder of the funds and oversee the project development.
The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) is also contributing funding to support the City of New Braunfels’ Impervious Cover and Water Quality Protection Initiative which protects water quality and endangered species at the Comal Springs. In the past, the City allocated funds to remove existing impervious cover from the Headwaters property and to low-impact development efforts on the project.
Currently, the group has completed Phase 1 of the property restoration which included removing asphalt, clearing one building from the grounds, restoring riparian areas around the springs, creating some trails throughout the property and installing stormwater protection features like berms and bioswales to significantly reduce the amount of pollutants from runoff that gets into the spring areas during rain events. In Phase 2, which Pappas projects to be the final chapter of the development, the team will be raising about $10 million, restoring the remaining buildings into a conference center and what they are calling the Comal Springs Education Center. The Center will be an open air facility covered with vines, pollinator plants and sail cloths designed to catch rainwater for use on the property.
“These design aspects will demonstrate a ‘one water concept’ which mirrors the earth’s own water cycle,” Pappas explained. “Also on the site, we will have several demonstration gardens which will be watered from our rainwater catchment system. Once the native plants are established, they will not require any irrigation water. These areas will serve as means to let people living and building in this part of Texas know that they can have a beautiful landscape without irrigating heavily. The native plants will enhance the bird and insect populations which makes for an overall healthy environment.”
Pappas described four eco-zones planned for the Headwaters property. There will be a prairie restoration highlighting native grasses that can survive lengthy dry periods. A restored riparian area will be featured along the spring runs and associated creek. That type of vegetation provides shelter and food for the endangered species living near the springs. Phase 2 will bring new woodland and xeriscape areas to the property.
“Another unique feature of the Headwaters site is that there is a large, functioning ground storage tank being used by New Braunfels Utilities to supply drinking water to residents and businesses in the area,” Pappas noted. “There is an Edwards Aquifer well on the property from which water is pumped into the storage tank. One major difference in this tank versus others you would see is that there is a special diverter pipe which takes excess chlorinated water into a natural catchment area before it flows into the spring areas. Previously, in emergency situations, that chlorinated water would just run into the river which was not good for the endangered species. Now, the overflow water will be naturally filtered before hitting the waterway.”
New Braunfels, like a lot of other cities along Texas’ I-35 corridor, is seeing considerable growth. That is the central reason the City of New Braunfels, New Braunfels Utilities and the Headwaters at the Comal are all determined to make the Headwaters a teaching component about the challenges and opportunities that come with new development.
“Water is the most important part to all life. And we firmly believe that the Headwaters at the Comal will help us learn what we collectively can do to protect our water resources and enhance the quality of life for current and future residents.”