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.

2017 West Texas Water Symposium – April 22, 2017

The first West Texas Water Symposium took place on April 22, 2017 in Alpine at the Granada Theater. More than 80 people attended from across Texas. Audio and video recordings and PowerPoint presentations from the symposium are posted below, followed by a complete schedule.

The symposium was organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, in partnership with Rio Grande Research Center at Sul Ross State University and Devils River Conservancy.

The Big Bend Conservation Alliance thanks the symposium’s sponsors: The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment * Alpine Montessori School * The Dixon Water Foundation * The City of Alpine * printco  * Holland Hotel and Maverick Inn * Big Bend Gazette * patagonia * Taste and See Bakery * Marfa Public Radio




(Formatted as Quicktime movies on YouTube)

    Jack Sharp, University of Texas at Austin, Carlton Professor of Geology


8 – 8:50am Meet and Greet with symposium participants, partners, and sponsors (coffee and pastries)
8:50 – 9am Introduction to BBCA and symposium
Kevin Urbanczyk, Rio Grande Research Center, Sul Ross State University Geology Dept.
Jack Sharp, University of Texas at Austin, Carlton Professor of Geology
Sarah Robertson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, River Studies Program biologist
10:20 – 10:30am Break
10:30 – 10:50am Q&A with Jack Sharp and Sarah Robertson
Bonnie Warnock, Sul Ross State University, Josey Chair for Sustainable Ranch Management, Natural Resource Management Dept. Chair
11:30am – 1:10pm Lunch break (light refreshments; list/map of other lunch locations provided)
1:10 – 2pm TEXAS GROUNDWATER 101
Amy Hardberger, St. Mary’s University School of Law Associate Dean
Sharlene Leurig, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas Environmental Flows Initiative Project Director
3:10 – 3:20pm Break
Sarah Rountree Schlessinger, Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts Executive Director
3:40 – 4:20pm Q&A with Sarah Schlessinger

GROUNDWATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT PANEL: regional GCD managers will discuss their district’s goals and challenges and the public’s role in groundwater management
4:20 – 5pm MEET YOUR LOCAL WATER MANAGERS: introduction to other water managers attending the symposium and opportunity to ask questions
5pm Cocktails at Saddle Club
5:30 – 6pm Sharlene Leurig’s Our Desired Future documentary in Granada

Reseeding and Restoration Along Pipeline Easement

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has repeatedly stated to stakeholders that they will make the land “as good or better” than it was before pipeline construction, but it is hard to imagine, even with intensive restoration work, how that can be accomplished.

Desert soils are very sensitive to disturbance. Desert vegetation is fragile and extremely slow to recover. Experts who have studied desert ecology know that even with intensive restoration attempts, it may take 30-50 years or longer for the land to recover – long past the useful lifespan of the pipeline.

Ecologist David Bainbridge, who has studied desert ecosystems says, “Trenching associated with underground… pipelines destabilize soil crusts and rock surfaces, concentrating water runoff and erosion.” In a paper published in Environmental Management, David Bainbridge and Jeffrey E. Lovich wrote: “Recovery to predisturbance plant cover and biomass may take 50-300 years, while complete ecosystem recovery may require over 3000 years. Restorative intervention can be used to enhance the success and rate of recovery, but the costs are high and the probability for long-term success is low to moderate. Given the sensitivity of desert habitats to disturbance and the slow rate of natural recovery, the best management option is to limit the extent and intensity of impacts as much as possible.” [1]

At the last ETP townhall meeting in Alpine, Larry Gremminger stated there were no plans to irrigate after reseeding. According to Gremminger, the pipeline easement will be reseeded in conjunction with monsoon season. In the intervening time (from completion of construction to the onset of monsoon season), the implication was that the land would lay fallow. The monsoon season in the Chihuahuan Desert is highly variable in onset and intensity.

Note that the regional seasonal monsoon season is generally late June through late September. Note in the photograph that this section of the easement has been reseeded in early March – there will be little, and insufficient rainfall between March and the onset of the seasonal monsoon for any germination of native grass seed to occur – instead it will be lost to wind erosion.

Reseeding and other restoration efforts could take years. In the meantime, the land would be subject to erosion, invasive species, desertification, and other undesirable effects. “The important lesson from the many studies of desert recovery and restoration is to avoid damage rather than fix it. Natural recovery may take hundreds or thousands of years and even with intensive restoration work, recovery can take many years.” -David Bainbridge [2]

[1] https://profile.usgs.gov/…/ci2009Mar2516563833446Desert%20d…
“Anthropogenic Degradation of the Southern California Desert Ecosystem and Prospects for Natural Recovery and
Restoration,” Environmental Management Vol.24, No.3, pp.309-326. “While our focus is specifically directed to
the problems of desert lands in California (most of our experience is in the Colorad Desert), we believe our review
will prove useful for desert management in other parts of the Southwest, northern Mexico, and in other drylands
around the world.”

[2] http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article_pf.asp?ID=1207 “New Study Underscored Fragility of Southern
California Deserts,” USGS News Release, October 22, 1999.

Photograph Courtesy of Chris Sweeny, Sunny Glen