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Unpave The Parking Lot and Create Paradise: A Story of Headwaters at the Comal River

By Nancy Pappas, Managing Director of New Braunfels Utilities’ Headwaters at the Comal

The Beginning

Remember the Joni Mitchell song “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot”?  Well, imagine you are on the Governing Board of the New Braunfels Utility and the staff proposes a plan to parcel off sections of a valuable 16 acres tract of land – once the fleet, facility and operations center for the growing utility – for development.  The mostly asphalt-paved property could bring in a significant amount of short-term funding redeveloped for commercial purposes, however, it also happens to have the neglected and long-forgotten original water source for the New Braunfels community.  What would you recommend? Keep that paved parking lot and make a little short-term money or create a paradise on a long-time eyesore? Could you commit to the long-term vision of preservation and conservation of a significant environmental and cultural resource?

Fortunately for the citizens of New Braunfels, Texas, and the greater region, the Board of Trustees of New Braunfels Utilities in keeping with a longstanding commitment to the environment and the community chose to restore and redevelop the 16 acre tract of land into a natural haven. Situated on the banks of the Comal River’s headwaters springs and Blieders Creek, the project now known as The Headwaters at the Comal, will highlight the hydrological, environmental and cultural history of the region. The property will also be a demonstration of water management best practices for the local community, the Texas Hill Country region and the nation.

Planning and Development

Phase I of this ambitious project was completed in November of 2017 and included the removal of a significant amount of the property’s impervious cover and the installation of an immersive native prairie landscape replete with walking trails, hundreds of native species of grasses, forbs, trees, berms, bioswales, check dams and bio-detention ponds; filtering and cleansing the stormwater that runs across this critical watershed property.  By completion of Phase I the amount of Total Suspended Solids reaching the very beginning of the Comal River will be reduced by 94 percent, a significant improvement to the health of this important water source and the protection of the endangered species that live in the Edwards aquifer ecosystem.

Phase II of the project, which is still in a capital campaign fundraising stage, will include public amenities including a central courtyard, event lawn and native plant demonstration gardens irrigated with rainwater harvested from the solar paneled roof of the main building. Phase II also includes construction of an event space repurposed from the old warehouse that will use innovative new technologies in natural lighting and ventilation with the aim of being a net-zero energy use facility.

One of the real jewels of the project, will be the Comal Springs Environmental Education Center.  This unique and engaging education center, designed by Lake|Flato architects will mimic the Aquifer Ecosystem of the Texas Hill Country,  with an open air space, covered with vines and pollinator attracting plants. The Center will be shaded by sail clothes representing clouds, catching dew and condensation to be channeled through rain chains into an elaborately constructed wetland system, an integral part of the blackwater reuse system that is connected to the bathroom facilities of the main building.

Moving Forward

The project’s completion, which is dependent on community support through donations, is anticipated for 2021.  The Headwaters at the Comal, a 501(c)(3) non-profit aspires to manage and operate this site as a quintessential example of balancing environmental and human needs. The Headwaters at the Comal has created an opportunity for us to have another connection to our history, while reinforcing a deep valuation of ecological and cultural resources that reflect the values of the New Braunfels community. By rehabilitating the 16-acre property we are contributing toward a movement to preserve our precious resources in a region that is losing its unique and fragile natural spaces to development at an alarming rate.

The Headwaters restoration project is open to the public on select days and times.  To find out more about the progress and recent archaeology excavation completed at the site visit our website www.headwatersatthecomal.com, or contact the Managing Director Nancy Pappas npappas@nbutexas.com.


Nancy Pappas is the Managing Director of New Braunfels Utilities’ Headwaters at the Comal. Her prior work includes consulting in non-profit management and organization, specifically with groups focused on enacting positive change in community engagement, public health and education.  She serves as the President of the Comal Trails Alliance, is a member of the Mayor’s Wellness Council, an elected member of the Comal Appraisal District, a lifetime Texas PTA member and a former Comal Independent School District Trustee.  Nancy graduated from Emory University with a BA in Economics.

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