Balmorhea Springs System Study

The San Solomon Springs system is an oasis in the middle of an otherwise dry, desert landscape. The system includes six major springs that contribute significant flows to water sources for the region’s unique wildlife and endangered species. Each year thousands of visitors swim in these waters with the fish and turtles in the world’s largest spring-fed pool located at Balmorhea State Park.

The six major springs in the area are: San Solomon, Phantom Lake, Giffin, Saragosa, West Sandia, and East Sandia. Earlier studies identified two major sources of the San Solomon Springs system: baseflow from the Apache Mountains and Wildhorse Flat in the west and from the Davis Mountains in the south; however, there has been a lack of data to identify the specific source areas of the individual springs. As demand for water in the area continues to increase at unprecedented rates, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of these source areas in order to protect water by minimizing impacts of pumping.

In a new report in collaboration with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Dr. Ron Green of the Southwest Research Institute has made a significant contribution to the previous understanding of the springs system’s interconnectedness.  Dr. Green asserted that one key to understanding the system would be to definitively clarify whether there is a separation between the six springs in the area.

According to the study recently released by Southwest Research Institute, “Individual springs have the potential to originate from individual source areas…[while clusters] of springs, such as the San Solomon Springs system, can have different source areas that are controlled” by different underground features. It is also possible that the same source area may feed multiple springs. This would explain why certain springs in West Texas, such as Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton, have dried up due to over-pumping, while others continue to flow under similar pumping conditions.

In order to better understand the differences among source areas and determine whether there is a separation between the different springs, Dr. Green and his co-worker, Rebecca Nunu, conducted chemical analyses on water samples from all six spring systems to identify any differences in their “chemical signatures.” It was assumed that any minute differences in chemistry would help determine whether the springs are sourced from different areas, potentially revealing a separation that had long been assumed by earlier researchers.

Dr. Green’s preliminary results suggest that the source areas for Phantom Lake, San Solomon (which feeds the pool at Balmorhea), and Giffin springs are distinct from the source areas for West Sandia, and East Sandia springs and possibly Saragosa Spring. These individual groupings validate earlier assertions that Phantom Lake, San Solomon, and Giffin springs are artesian springs (where water flows to the surface under natural pressure underground), while Saragosa, West Sandia, and East Sandia, are water-table gravity springs (where water flows underground until the water table intersects with the ground surface  and issues out as a spring). Though limited in scope, this study goes a long way in verifying assumptions and solidifying the foundation for ongoing and future science in the region.

The San Solomon Springs system is located in the Delaware Basin, a southern extension of the Permian Basin. In response to growing concerns about fracking and water depletion, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance is building on recent research findings to continue working with the Southwest Research Institute in creating a hydrologic conceptualization and model of the region to better integrate the available data. The goal of this project is to eventually provide tools for area decision-makers and industrial operators to predict the impacts of pumping on groundwater and spring discharge.

Click here for more information and details of the preliminary findings.

Join our Board of Directors

Big Bend Conservation Alliance seeks new board members to help protect the natural and cultural resources of the Big Bend. Are you passionate about the Big Bend? Do you want to help strengthen BBCA’s mission throughout the region?

If you live in the Big Bend region, we especially want to hear from you.

Contact us today at info@bigbendconservationalliance.org if you are interested in joining our board or learning more about the opportunity. Click here for more information on board member qualifications, duties, and expectations.

Helios Energy in Presidio County

Location of pad site can be found at: https://bit.ly/2lSbDNX

Oil and gas production has expanded with the completion of four wells owned by Helios Energy near Quinn Creek in northwestern Presidio County. Here is the information on the project BBCA has gathered from Texas Railroad Commission and investor materials published by Helios (more information on the project is available at: https://www.heliosenergyltd.com/projects/presidio-oil-project). 

  • Helios has drilled 4 wells – Two wells are vertical text/core bores, one was the initial vertical production test well, and the fourth (I&I #2) was a vertical bore, amended to horizontal, completed on September 4th.
  • The #2 well was initially a discovery/test well, but has been fully completed and fracked. Based on reported production numbers, this well does not seem to produce as much as other wells in the Alpine High/Southern Delaware Basin. 
  • Investor materials indicate that over 44,000 acres will be leased with a total footprint of 16 wells.
  • Helios constructed a 25 mile road from pad sites to US90.
  • Oil will be transported via truck to refinery in El Paso (170 miles away).
  • 3.328 million gallons of water were used to complete the #2 well – which is consistent with the shallowness of the well and short laterals. 
  • Local water wells are likely supplying the water used for production (per Helios investor materials). 
  • It is not known how flowback water is being disposed of – pictures indicate a number of evaporation ponds with excess water most likely being trucked to disposal wells outside of the county. 
  • With no ability to take away the natural gas produced, it is likely all being flared or vented. Flaring and venting is allowed during drilling operations and for 10 days after completion. After that period, an exemption is required for flaring and/or venting (or the well should be shut in). 

As oil production expands, it will be vitally important to understand the larger impacts to the region and support conservation efforts to protect water resources, dark skies, and ecology of the region. BBCA will continue to monitor oil and gas development and work with local units of government, landowners, groundwater conservation districts, and other stakeholders to provide information, tools, and support to make informed decisions and protect the natural resources of the Big Bend.

Additional information and media coverage can be found here:

https://bigbendsentinel.com/2019/09/11/in-far-northwest-presidio-county-fracked-oil-flows-quietly/

2019 Water Symposium a Great Success

Over 150 people attended the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Water Symposium hosted by Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Pronatura Noreste, Rio Grande Joint Venture, and Audubon Texas on July 18, 2019 at the USO Building in Marfa, Texas. Water and policy experts from the United States and Mexico discussed issues impacting the health of the Rio Grande in a number of different areas from environmental flows to policy initiatives on both sides of the border. On July 19, a group of conservation professionals from a number of organizations convened to craft a new vision of the Rio Grande and discuss solutions for how the public and private sectors can come together to find new approaches for protecting the Rio Grande. See full coverage from the Big Bend Sentinel on the symposium: https://bigbendsentinel.com/2019/07/24/binational-summit-on-health-of-the-rio-grande/.

Rio Grande / Río Bravo Water Symposium

Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Audubon Texas, Rio Grande Joint Venture, and Pronatura Noreste have partnered to present Rio Grande / Río Bravo Water Symposium. Water experts from the U.S. and Mexico will discuss the Rio Grande, environmental flows, groundwater, and solutions for enhancing the health of the river. The free event will take place at 9:00 AM on July 18th at the USO Building in Marfa, TX. Lunch will be provided. Registration for the event can be found at: https://www.audubon.org/2019-rio-granderio-bravo-water-symposium

July 18, 2019

9:00 AM – 5:30 PM

USO Building

Marfa, TX

Old Ore 10k & 50K Run – BBNP – November 3, 2019

Overland Racing returns to Big Bend National Park with the Old Ore 10K & 50K point-to-point run on November 3, 2019. Registration includes: screened long sleeve tech shirt, post race meal, and Off the Wheel Pottery finisher medals. BBCA will be the beneficiary of a portion of the proceeds – register today to support BBCA and experience running in the majestic Big Bend National Park! Registration link and additional details can be found here.

Montopolis CD Release Party: “The Legend of Big Bend” @ The North Door in Austin, TX – June 6, 2019

Montopolis turns west Texas tales into song in this concert inspired by Big Bend National Park. The performance weaves science, history, poetry and personal stories into music inspired by the land and the people that have walked upon it.  Submit your photo of Big Bend here:  https://montopolismusic.com/bigbend  and receive a discount code for 50% of the ticket price.  Photos will be projected during the concert on the North Door’s giant screen.    

Tickets are available via Eventbright.  

Trans-Pecos Pipeline Donations to the Region

We are happy to see Trans-Pecos Pipeline is following industry standard and donating money to the communities it has affected. The $2.8 million donation is approximately the amount of TPP’s gross transportation revenue for a single day of pipeline operation, based on natural gas prices in today’s market. The donations will be used to build and support much-needed projects, like the library in Alpine and a new recreational complex in Presidio. Brewster County and Alpine will also invest some of these funds in emergency services, with the help of matching contributions from other sources.

In light of the good news, we want to keep TPP’s donations in perspective. Thirty-nine area landowners went to court for low-ball easement offers on their properties, won fairer settlements and still have not been compensated by TPP. The cost of clean-up for an explosion event, should one happen, will
fall initially on the communities. For example, the Cuero fire in June of 2015 cost DeWitt Country and associated utilities around $800,000 to repair roads and electrical lines. They will need to negotiate or even sue to be compensated. Our region is susceptible to higher damages and more extreme emergency situations. Remember the Rock House Fire that swept through Big Bend in 2011 caused an estimated $4.3 million in damages.

We are not taking an alarmist approach, but want to recognize that oil and gas projects in our area are not risk-free and come with other price tags: the cost to our local landowners and the cost of safety of our community. It is important to remember these issues as we continue to see an uptick of activity in our area, and to keep in mind that although there are benefits like these voluntary donations, there is more that may be lost.