BBCA Celebrates 5 Years

Five years ago, Big Bend Conservation Alliance was officially incorporated with the State of Texas. BBCA started as an entirely volunteer-led, grassroots organization centered around the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project that was constructed through the Big Bend region. While the pipeline was eventually installed, BBCA has endured to be the premiere conservation organization dedicated to protect the natural resources of the greater Big Bend region. 

In the short term, BBCA will continue to focus its efforts on advocacy, education, and strengthening our capacity to provide impactful programming and conservation outcomes throughout the region. Long-term, BBCA envisions thriving and resilient Big Bend built upon the region’s legacy of stewardship and sustained through meaningful alliances to preserve the unspoiled sense of place unique to Far West Texas. We believe that this can be accomplished with our ability to:   
*Be an honest voice and advocate for region
*Maintain a local community-based approach to reflect the values of the local residents
*Protect the pristine nature of the region, natural resources, and quality of life
*Be effective, pragmatic, and inclusive with high degree of integrity
*Build consensus on broad issues through relationships inside and outside of the region

Our night sky program is working with partners like the McDonald Observatory and the Tierra Grande Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists to protect the exceptional night skies of the Big Bend. We hope to achieve dark sky certifications throughout the region and provide education on the importance of night skies for the local economy, wildlife, and health of Big Bend residents. 

There are many on-going challenges to the region’s scarce water resources. BBCA is focused on increasing our knowledge and understanding of regional water issues so that we can make informed choices on how water is sustainably managed. BBCA’s water symposium last year highlighted the Rio Grande by bringing together experts from the US and Mexico to discuss challenges and solutions to increasing the health of the river. Also, we seek to deepen our understanding of the Balmorhea Spring System through research studies undertaken in conjunction with hydrologists from Southwest Research Institute – results of the next phase of our research will be released later this year. Lastly, BBCA is working on a water advocacy campaign for West Texas that will bring thought leaders from across the region to examine how we can manage water resources in light of regional development, industrial activities, and growth. 

We are so thankful for all of our donors, partners, supporters, and volunteers that have shown their commitment to BBCA and our mission over the past five years. Our work is more important than ever and BBCA will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of the communities we serve. 

Big Bend in the Road

The Landscape Architecture Magazine has published an article about the work being done to plan improvements to US 67 which runs through the heart of the Big Bend region. BBCA has been involved in the extensive planning process to envision what the corridor should look like in the future and provide input on community and conservation needs. Read the article here. Additional information on the project can be found on the TXDOT website here.

TRANS PECOS Film Premieres

Dear Friends.. 
We’re very proud to present the premiere of

TRANS PECOS
The Story of Stolen Land and the
Loss of America’s Last Frontier

Sunday, February 23rd
at the Stateside Theater
in Austin, TX
*** Sold Out***
Doors @ 4:00 PM | Screening @ 5:00 PM
Panel discussion to include: 
Renea Hicks, Attorney
Coyne Gibson, Big Bend Conservation Alliance
Jessica Karlsruher, TREAD Coalition
Nicol Ragland, TRANS PECOS Director
Moderated by Jim Bradbury, eminent domain attorney

Tuesday, February 25th
at SRSU, Academic Computer Resources Building, Room 204
in Alpine, TX
Doors @ 5:30 pm | Screening @ 6:00 p.m
Panel discussion to include: 
Nicol Ragland, TRANS PECOS Director
J.D. Newsom, BBCA Executive Director
David Keller, Archeologist

Friday, February 28th
at the Crowley Theater
in Marfa, TX
Doors @ 5:00 PM | Screening @ 6:00 PM
Panel discussion to include: 
Nicol Ragland, TRANS PECOS Director
Coyne Gibson, Volunteer – Big Bend Conservation Alliance
Trey Gerfers, Former President – Big Bend Conservation Alliance 

This documentary sets out to uncover the truth of the controversial Trans Pecos Pipeline while creating a poetic portrait of Far West Texas and the American people whose lives and land the pipeline has affected. The story is woven of a diverse fabric of an insider, landowners, concerned citizens of different colors, classes and creeds – some of which come from the oil and gas industry itself.

TRANS PECOS is a story about the unexpected bipartisan alliances that occur when companies place private gain before public good.

The grassroots support behind TRANS PECOS attempts to find common ground in a way that strengthens citizen engagement and civic bridges. It is a story of how one natural gas pipeline in Far West Texas can act as a conduit of change between informed citizens and those in power as the future of natural resources and energy is decided.

Big Bend Climate Change Seminar

Climate change and its effects upon the Big Bend will be the subject of scientific presentations on January 18th from 3 to 6 pm, at Sul Ross State University’s Espino Conference Center. Sponsored by the Big Bend Chapter of the Native Plant Society, Big Bend Conservation Alliance, the Big Bend Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District, the speakers will discuss expected climate-change effects on temperature and water cycles, vegetation communities and wildland fire and strategies to influence, manage and adapt to those changes.

 “This is a great opportunity to examine expected climate change impacts on Big Bend forests, grasslands, and desert,” said Dallas Baxter, president of the Big Bend Chapter of the Native Plant Society. “These topics are important to area parks, ranches, farms, water planners, fire managers, conservationists, and natural resource professionals as well as state, county and city governments. No challenge in the coming years is more dire than climate change.”

Dr. John Nielson-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University, will present the latest climate models and their complications, with emphasis on Trans-Pecos water cycles.

Dr. Nick Smith, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University, will discuss response to climate change by Trans-Pecos plant communities and how land management decisions influence resilience to climate effects.

Dr. Dylan Schwilk, Professor of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech, will provide results of studies on how plant traits influence fire behavior, and effects of drought and fire on trees in Trans-Pecos mountain ranges.

The seminar will be in Room A, Espino Conference Center in the Morgan University Center at Sul Ross State University. Attendance is free; however, registration is requested. To register, e-mail fondag@sbcglobal.net.

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.

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/