My Living Waters: Dianne Wassenich’s lifelong mission to protect the San Marcos River
You’ll find the city of San Marcos – aptly nicknamed San Marvelous – nestled in-between Austin and San Antonio, where life seems to revolve around two things: Texas State University and the San Marcos River. At the heart of it is Dianne Wassenich, program director of the small but effective San Marcos River Foundation and, for all intents and purposes, matriarch of the community built around the effervescent springs of the San Marcos River.
We’re big fans of Dianne here at the Texas Living Waters Project, and we can think of no better way to kick off our series about Texas water heroes and the water features they cherish than a Q&A with Dianne about her work and her connection to the San Marcos River.
Texas Living Waters (TLW): What is your personal connection to the springs and San Marcos River?
Dianne Wassenich (DW): Well, I’ve lived in this area for almost 40 years, and you can’t live in this area without adoring these springs. They’re just the centerpiece of our community.
TLW: What’s special about this place, and why have you felt compelled to protect it?
DW: I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and so it became very apparent to me – decades ago – that freshwater springs like this one are very important to the Gulf Coast. The San Marcos River Foundation board made a decision to try to protect the springs that go all the way to the Gulf Coast. So I’ve been involved in water issues in a big picture way for many decades.
TLW: These springs are a part of an interconnected web that goes down to the coast. Could help us connect this place with the larger picture?
DW: These springs spring out of our Hill Country recharge zone where the rainfall falls in the hills, goes underground to the aquifer…. And then the springs burst forth. They then serve communities and people, wildlife, all the way to the Gulf Coast where they’re extremely important for the coastal everything: coastal recreation industry, the wildlife and birds that migrate from all over the world to our Texas coast, to the seafood industry, to industries that need water to produce whatever goods they make. So this river in the Hill Country is directly connected to Texas’ gulf coast.
TLW: San Marcos River Foundation was recently involved in purchasing a land parcel that impacts the springs, and may have been developed otherwise. Can you tell us more about this?
DW: We are managing two ranches right now, leasing for grazing and trying to write grants to help pay off loans for those. My assistant and I direct all the fundraising for our general budget each year as well as for land acquisitions. We just completed our first conservation easement on a 250 acre ranch that drains straight to Spring Lake last month, and will use the celebration party for that project, sometime in May, to invite all the neighboring landowners and see if they also would like to consider a conservation easement.
TLW: What the some of the ways in which you engage the city of San Marcos in taking care of their river?
DW: We are growing our already-very-large group of volunteer water quality monitors for this area. We are the largest group, producing the most data, of any Stream Team in the state, and San Marcos River Foundation has funded the test kits for these volunteers for at least two decades.
We also work in the city and county planning processes to be sure we get trail systems or linked greenspaces that make sense, offer a wildlife corridor, and help people be able to access natural areas on foot or by bicycle from their neighborhoods, for recreation as well as for transportation. We have done that for decades and it means we now have a good trail system being actually enacted, before the rapid development precludes the possibility of having such a network.
We work hard to communicate each week, and daily on social media, all the important river and aquifer news that people need to understand to protect our river, and how to volunteer. We do many outreach events each month, often four or five a month, speaking to groups and having booths where we speak to the public one-on-one. This newsletter and social media outreach has made people see us as the entity to call when they see a problem on the river.
TLW: On a personal note, what’s your favorite way to enjoy the San Marcos?
DW: It’s so hard to decide my favorite way to enjoy the San Marcos River. I love birding, and it is a real center for birds. They come here to drink on their migrations and to live. But I also really like kayaking and floating the river, and so that’s a big plus. I’m not a real good swimmer, but swimming is fun as long as I am near someplace where I can touch bottom.
TLW: What’s some advice you would give to people on how they can best get involved with water issues in their communities?
DW: I think it’s extremely important for people to communicate with their elected officials about what’s important to them, and let them know. If they’re city people, or if they’re county commissioners, or if they’re legislators, let them know what’s really important to you, because you’ll get a chance to meet them in all kinds of ways (though not during the legislative season when they’re real busy). And you can make that difference if you talk to them, they’ll represent you better if they know what you think. They want to know what their constituents think.
About the series: My Living Waters
This blog series is our tribute to the rich tapestry of Texas’ water heroes, and the water features they cherish. Do you know somebody who speaks up for water and wildlife in their everyday life? Let us know.