Nonprofit Group Provides Protection for San Marcos River
EAHCP Steward - September-October 2018 - www.EAHCPSteward.org
If you know Dianne Wassenich, you’ve experienced her relaxed style and friendly way of interacting. And if you have worked with her on a project, you know she is doggedly determined and doesn’t mind taking on large, consequential tasks, especially when it comes to protecting the San Marcos River. That spirit of conviction and self-confidence hasn’t gone unnoticed and she is now the executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation and an active participant in the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) work.
“I got started in this work about 17 years ago as my husband and I joined the San Marcos River Foundation to object to some pipelines that were planned to go through this watershed and some wastewater activities that were not helping the area,” Wassenich recalled. “But I really kind of took a deep dive into the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Plan (EARIP) when the Foundation was included as a stakeholder in that process. I attended as many meetings as I could, but really gained most of my knowledge at the science committee meetings. I’d stay out of the way and prepare lunch for participants. But, I listened intently to each presentation and discussion, read through all of the PowerPoints and got my hands on the studies. This is when the lightbulb went on for me that protecting the recharge zone above the San Marcos River had to be the Foundation’s focus.”
Wassenich credits the undeveloped land between Wimberley and the City of San Marcos for the fact that crystal clear water and steady flows still fill Spring Lake in San Marcos and the San Marcos River today. That acreage is heavily vegetated and rocky ranch land with several ravines directing rainwater to recharge features that feed the San Marcos Springs. Keeping that land as natural as possible became the focus of the Foundation.
“First we checked with major land trust organizations to see if they were doing any work in this area. They were not,” said Wassenich. “We knew that the EAHCP and EAA couldn’t lead this effort. And while the City of San Marcos had done some nice land preservation west of the land we were targeting, we soon came to realize that our small organization was going to have to step up and take on the job of buying land for conservation easements. Of course, we knew nothing about that when we started.”
To address the shortcomings in land acquisition knowledge, SMRF partnered with the Save Our Springs group in Austin which was established to help protect Barton Springs. SMRF’s first land purchase, consisting of 75 acres, came through loan funding from The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national organization focused on land preservation. TCF also lent SMRF funds to buy the second and larger purchase of 250 acres in 2016. The City of San Marcos then bought the 250 acres from SMRF in 2018 with a federally funded but little-used loan program at the Texas Water Development Board. This land has major ravines and recharge features on it.
“We have been successful over the last five years in creating a bit of land easement ring just above Spring Lake and we will continue to add to our purchases,” Wassenich explained. “The City of San Marcos has added to that ring as well. We now are working with some great individual landowners, and they know our goal is to obtain conservation easements on properties which can help those landowners in estate planning to keep the land in a natural state, to keep the river clear and flowing. Land can be sold with those conservation easements in place.”
Despite the considerable effort required to get the recharge zone protection program going, Wassenich noted that SMRF is fortunate to have numerous volunteers which has allowed them to participate in many river clean up efforts in the area. SMRF also monitors and comments on proposed projects or programs at the city, county and state level that would impact the San Marcos River environment.
“We have one of the largest volunteer Stream Team groups in the state. These are people who get training to be able to test water quality in the river. Because of our numbers, we are able to test vast stretches of the river that extend to the City of Luling and include a number of creeks and tributaries along the way.”
That large group of volunteers has also contributed thousands of hours toward the EAHCP’s water quality programs. As usual, Wassenich was not shy about her opinion toward the EAHCP.
“It is truly miraculous that so many different organizations and stakeholder groups came together to agree on a direction and process for the Habitat Conservation Plan. The ASR and VISPO leasing programs primarily aimed at agricultural interests in the west have provided a major chunk of water to protect the springs in a serious drought. The actual Aquifer Storage and Recovery plant managed by the San Antonio Water System is a key component in springflow protection, even in the worst of dry spells. The riverbank restorations in New Braunfels and San Marcos now help clean runoff water. There is really too much to describe in one sitting. ’Miraculous’ is the best word I have for all of this.”
In the end, Wassenich knows there’s much more to do in protecting the San Marcos River for future generations. But, her efforts and that of the SMRF volunteers stand as a very bright light toward the proper path of how to collaboratively make that happen.