My Living Waters: Janice Bezanson’s niche in saying ‘no’ to reservoirs and ‘yes’ to wise water use
Little Cypress Reservoir. Waters Bluff Lake. Fastrill, Red River and Dimple reservoirs. There’s a reason you’ve likely never heard of these man-made lakes – they were never built. And the reason for that is, in large part, Janice Bezanson.
Janice has made a name for herself in the world of Texas conservation through her work with Texas Conservation Alliance, which she now leads as its executive director. Her advocacy and community organizing prowess has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation’s Charlie Shaw Conservation Partnership Award, and in 2012 she was one of 15 women leaders honored at the Bob Bolluck Museum’s Women Shaping Texas in the 20th Century exhibit.
Perhaps most notably, the proof of her success is in the names of costly and environmentally-destructive reservoirs that were never constructed, thanks to community organizing leadership like Janice’s and the effective partnerships that she helped form around these causes.
With the Texas Water Plan’s recommendations to build 26 more reservoirs during the coming decades, Janice is setting her advocacy sights on East Texas these days, where most of the plan’s larger reservoirs have been proposed. In addition to laying the groundwork to oppose more unnecessary reservoirs, Janice advocates for more cost-effective and wildlife-friendly approaches to water supply solutions – starting with using our water more wisely.
We caught up with Janice to learn more about her personal history with the conservation movement, and to get her recommendations on how we can all use water more efficiently, starting at home.
Texas Living Waters (TLW): How did you get involved with Texas Conservation Alliance (TCA) and Texas water issues?
Janice Bezanson (JB): When I was a young housewife and mother living in Nacogdoches, Texas Conservation Alliance was generating support for a congressional bill to designate areas of the national forests in East Texas as wilderness areas. My husband Steve had gotten interested in environmental issues in college and Steve read about the wilderness proposal in the magazine of a conservation group we had joined. We wrote volunteer letters in support of a wilderness area near us. This was in the days before email or even faxes.
The founder of TCA, Ned Fritz, and Beth Johnson, who worked for TCA, went to the US Forest Service office in Lufkin and hand wrote the names and addresses of all the people who submitted favorable comments on the wilderness proposal, then sent out a letter asking people to volunteer. I offered to type, file, answer the phone, that sort of thing, but said I didn’t want to do anything public. Within a year, I was debating the Forest Service supervisor on regional TV! I had found my niche.
I got into water issues because Ned Fritz wanted someone to oppose a dam proposed on Little Cypress Creek, upstream of Caddo Lake. Ned was famous for talking people into doing things they didn’t really know how to do, but there was no one else to take on opposing Little Cypress Reservoir. So my husband and I launched into representing TCA in the permit hearing, then successfully led the fight against a local bond election to fund the reservoir. Quite an education – some good stories to tell!
TLW: Why are you passionate about standing up for Texas water?
JB: We were first motivated to get into water issues because of the huge impacts on wildlife and natural ecosystems that come from building dams and impounding tens of thousands of acres of prime bottomland habitat. What we also quickly learned is that building reservoirs is no longer the most economical way of providing future water supply. Finding non-structural options for water supply saves money that taxpayers and water ratepayers can use for their families’ needs.
We also saw the tremendous pain it causes people to be forced off their land and sometimes out of their homes to build a reservoir – land that provides their livelihood as well as their special place to hunt or fish or be with their families. Land that has sometimes been in their families for generations.
TLW: What’s one of the most effective things we can do to protect our state’s waters and the wildlife that depend on them?
JB: Protecting bays and estuaries begins upstream. Texans are diverting huge amounts of water from our rivers for human use – we have to do this in order to take care of the millions of people that live in Texas. But it takes water out of the stream that’s needed for the bays and estuaries downstream.
The water that we use in our homes goes down the drain and is picked up and is taken to a water plant, and then put back into streams, or lakes, or water systems. So it gets reused. But the water that we use on our lawn is evaporated by the plants, goes up into the atmosphere, may come down as rain over the gulf… it’s lost to the local system.
So the thing we can do that most protects, most conserves water, is how we water our lawn. Most people over water their lawn. They water their lawn more than they really need to. And of course, the best thing you can do is to plant native plants and other plants that are adapted to your local region so they don’t really need very much water.
TLW: Can you tell us more about the steps we can take to conserve water with our lawns?
JB: It’s best to start by planting native plant species, or species whose water needs fit the amount of rainfall that falls in your area. Instead of the water-guzzling St. Augustine grass that is so commonly planted where it shouldn’t be, go to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center website and find a grass that suits your locale. Then use plants native to your region in your flower beds. Native plants are already adapted to the local condition – and wildflower beds can be gorgeous!
Avoid watering your lawn when the sun is bright and evaporates a lot of the water. Early in the morning is best.
Don’t mow your lawn too short. Mowing too short stresses your lawn and increases its water needs. Keep grass at least three inches tall during the summer.
Repair leaky faucets and use drip irrigation hoses instead of sprays whenever you can.
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.