A Review of LWV-AA’s Forum on Environmental Quality with TESPA

Protecting the Water of the Texas Hill Country: Studies, Research, and Advocacy

June 22, 2017 | 7-9 pm
Sustainable Food Center
2921 East 17th Street, Austin TX 78702

This forum was part of the LWV Austin’s 2017 study of our position on environmental quality. During this forum, we heard from a variety of perspectives about water management in the Hill Country and Austin. Many people commented on how the perspectives offered a broad and deep picture of the “water grab” in the Hill Country, as well as flood management, two sides of the same topic. Our featured speaker, Mr. Jim Blackburn, discussed the science and legal issues involved in protecting Hill Country Water. Our two other speakers commented on legislative work on the part of the LWV-Texas to protect water, along with results of the local study of flood mitigation needs in Austin.

Jim Blackburn, TESPA founder and director (Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association, tespatexas.org), was our featured speaker. His presentation is on our website. Mr. Blackburn emphasized that the current and intense water grab in the Hill Country is, in part, due to landowners hoping to hold on to the possibility of having water available in the future, even if they do not need to use it at the moment. He explained how the particular Karst geology is an important factor in how water in the Hill Country works in synch with the springs, and if the Karst formations are compressed due to water drainage, they will not recover. We need to talk comprehensively about protecting Karst geology and groundwater. And we need uniformity in district regulations. He has had litigation success by following the Endangered Species Act, which protects species but also a baseline level of water in the springs in the Hill Country. He reminded us that the public owns the water, not individual landowners, that it is a public resource, but our elected officials are not protecting public water. Finally, he urged us to join the fight to help develop a comprehensive reconsideration of Texas groundwater law. We need to be ready to litigate locally. 

Jensie Madden, LWV-TX Issue Chair for Land Use, and member of LWV-Comal Area, spoke about “Protecting Groundwater Quality,” and LWV-TX efforts during this past legislative session to prohibit direct discharge of wastewater into Hill Country streams. She is not discouraged by the failed bills this past year, but ready to prepare for the next legislative session.

Carol Olewin, LWV-Austin Area, former president and current League member. Carol, along with other members of the Task Force, Ana  Aguirre, and Dorsey Twidwell, and spoke about the results of “City of Austin Flood Mitigation Task Force Report.” They all emphasized the dire situation of flooding in the Austin area and highlighted the real safety issues which cannot be ignored. There are complexities in the mitigation plan that still need to be addressed, but it’s clear that the situation is currently very dangerous for Austin residents who are in areas that flood. They noted that in Austin, we have “flood amnesia,” which prevents us from taking action to prevent future flooding catastrophes. We need updated drainage infrastructure and a great deal more money to support the work that needs to be done in replacing storm pipes, a process which is extensively backlogged six years. This process could be integrated with redevelopment plans proposed in CodeNext. 

Lea Masiello
VP Programs

Download Jim Blackburn’s presentation (PDF)
Download the Flood Mitigation Task Force Report (PDF), courtesy of the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department.