As part of our ongoing effort to capture the many dimensions of Texan waterscapes, Ellen Larson, an Austin-area high school student and a Summer 2020 Texas Living Waters volunteer, reflects on the beauty and precarity of our favorite summer escapes:
As we head into a late Texas summer, sweltering heat coupled with restlessness in our homes has made venturing into the outdoors necessary but somewhat miserable. During this time my family has turned to one thing: Texas parks and their water.
It’s become a tradition every Friday over the past few months for my family and I to hop in the car and head off to a new park. We’ve visited Blanco, McKinney Falls, Bastrop, and Pedernales Falls just to name a few. Despite being just a short drive away, they all feel like completely different worlds. At Guadalupe River State Park, cypresses line the trail with their roots tumultuously covering the ground. At Government Canyon, the savanna trail reminds my mom of the grasslands in Kenya. And at Colorado Bend—where we recently spent three days camping—the armadillos and deer casually walking about make you feel hours from civilization.
Our trip to Colorado Bend started on a 100-degree day. We arrived late morning and decided to venture along the well-shaded Spicewood Springs trail. On the way down to the springs, lush foliage lined the path as we saw spectacular views of the creek and hills below. As we descended towards the springs, the sight of cool water bubbling from a large pool was bliss. I wasted no time getting into the water, and as we continued to hike back to the car along the creek, I would proceed to do so several more times, eager to escape the Texas heat.
The next morning was slightly cooler following a rain during the night. We decided to take advantage of this break in the heat by hiking the most difficult route in the park—the Tinaja trail. I was mystified when we arrived at the tinaja itself. A bedrock depression filled with water and various aquatic plants was a strange sight in the middle of what seemed to be a dry forest. My steps around the landmark didn’t faze the many frogs hopping in and out of the water. After quickly breaking to admire the scenery, we continued on to the park’s Gorman Falls.
The 70-foot falls left me speechless. The fragile calcium deposits covered in moss were absolutely beautiful. The water cascading down the drop provided a gentle mist of natural air conditioning. It was strange to me to think that the falls could be so full of water and life while more than a third of the state of Texas was under moderate to severe drought. I stood in awe for quite some time, but eventually had to return to our campsite in anticipation of heading home the next day.
Throughout this summer, I’ve gotten the chance to experience some of Texas’ natural wonders. Yet it’s difficult to cherish all the beauty and variety without also considering future conservation concerns, particularly when it comes to Texas water. I can’t imagine hiking without the promise of a cool swim or camping in the heat without the option to jump into the river. However, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University suggests exactly that scenario could play out in Texas over the coming decades. Researchers have concluded that this century could yield the worst droughts Texas has seen in over 1,000 years. In addition to depleting surface waters such as lakes and rivers, these droughts could threaten plant growth and drinking water supply for a large majority of people, wildlife, and livestock.
Water conservation is thus becoming increasingly important in order to support the wellbeing of Texas citizens and the environment. Despite this growing need for conservation efforts, the 2020 Texas Water Conservation Scorecard developed by Texas Living Waters shows that many municipalities and utilities are struggling to implement measures that successfully reduce water loss. While rebuilding leaking infrastructure, setting accurate water pricing, and regulating use does lie with utilities and water districts, there are many ways individuals can conserve Texas water. By limiting outdoor watering, using low-flow appliances, and implementing other small water-saving practices, everyone can help ensure there is enough water to support future Texans and wildlife.
At the dark base of Gorman Falls, the cool spray and flow of water transported me a thousand miles away from the city, the grind, and the pandemic. I hope years from now I can return to this same hollow and still experience the quiet magic of crisp flowing water in a Texan summer.
Further reading & resources:
“Conservation is essential to Texas’ future, and it’s time to get serious,” Jennifer Walker, Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation Blog, July 16, 2020.
“Texas ranchers, activists and local officials are bracing for megadroughts brought by climate change” Meena Venkataramanan, Texas Tribune, July 27, 2020.
“Unprecedented drought challenges for Texas water resources in a changing climate: what do researchers and stakeholders need to know?” John W. Nielsen‐Gammon et al, Earth’s Future, June 29, 2020.