Report Finds Texas Natural Areas At Risk: 7500 Acres in Barton Springs Watershed Under “Imminent Threat”

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Environment Texas

AUSTIN—Some of our best-known natural areas, including Big Bend Ranch State Park and Padre Island National Seashore, are threatened with development and other harmful activities, according to a report released today by Environment Texas, the Save Our Springs Alliance, Texas Committee on Natural Resources, Texans for State Parks and Creating Common Ground. The groups highlighted the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer region, where Austin city staff have warned that 7500 acres are immediately threatened with development. “If we continue to allow development in natural areas like Barton Springs, Caddo Lake and our state parks, the beauty and character of our state will be lost forever,” said Environment Texas Advocate Luke Metzger. “It’s time for our elected officials to invest in Texas’ natural heritage and to provide the planning and resources we need to preserve Texas for future generations.”

The report profiles Austin’s Barton Springs, the nation’s largest natural swimming pool in an urban area, a drinking water source for a significant portion of the region and habitat to endangered wildlife. Because the ground above and upstream of Barton Springs is thin, pollution can easily enter the watershed. Further development over the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer thus jeopardizes the future of the Springs. An estimated 30,000 additional acres of land over the Aquifer will need to be protected in order to save Barton Springs forever. In the short term, Austin city staff have warned that 7500 acres are imminently threatened with development. With the City Council currently preparing a bond package to fund community priorities, the groups called on the Council to include at least $75 million in the November bond election to protect the immediately threatened areas.

“It’s far cheaper to buy out proposed development in the sensitive Barton Springs watershed and preserve land and water quality than to pay for all of the infrastructure required when the Hill Country is urbanized,” commented Save Our Springs Alliance Communications Director Colin Clark.

Other threats to natural areas include: BNP Petroleum pursuing a thirty-year gas drilling effort in the Padre Island National Seashore; developers hope to build an industrial park in the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge; and water developers threatening to drown some of Texas’ best remaining hardwood forests along the Neches River to build an unnecessary reservoir.

“More than 75% of the bottomland hardwood forests in Texas have already been cut and converted to other uses,” said Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Committee on Natural Resources (TCONR). “Establishing the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and completing the Caddo Lake Refuge are two of the state’s most critical resource issues.”

Finally, the groups pointed out that budget cuts to the state parks system by the Texas Legislature have reduced public access to parks, led parks officials to consider selling part of Big Bend Ranch State Park, and put on hold indefinitely any plans to create new parks to meet the needs of Texas’ growing population.
The coalition called on the Legislature to establish sustainable and substantial funding to meet the basic operating and repair needs of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and to support new park acquisition.

“Texans for State Parks is pleased to be joining forces with various statewide organizations to support our State Parks and Natural Areas,” said Beth McDonald, President of Texans for State Parks. “Annual cuts to our State Parks budget have caused the department to lose staff through a reduction in force (RIF) and to severely cut the hours of operation and services at many parks. By combining our efforts we hope to better educate the public about our under funded State Park system and, with their help, correct the problem at the next legislative session.”