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How the ongoing drought impacts the Hill Country

Examining the watershed.
Armando Medina
Examining a watershed model.

In 2022, San Antonio received only a third of its average annual rainfall. Kerrville received 12.38 inches, 60% below its normal average. Popular swimming holes from Jacobs Well in Wimberley to the Guadalupe River near Center Point dried up. The Pedernales, Llano rivers dropped to no flow in areas, leaving stagnant pools, impacting wildlife, agriculture, and tourism revenue in addition to many rural communities dependent on limited water resources. As the drought continues into 2023, what can we do to preserve the water we’ve got?

This Texas Water Symposium panel discussion, recorded on Feb. 22, 2023 at Schreiner University, looks at ways we can improve water stewardship, and shares how the ongoing drought is affecting commerce and business through the examples of two local businesses.

“People see the San Antonio news, and they hear what the Edwards Aquifer is doing… the reality of what’s happening at your place could be completely different than what is happening down the street," said Bandera County River Authority GM Dave Mauk, at the event. "If you go in the rivers around here, and it’s hot, and it’s not flowing, I would not get in there.” –Dave Mauk

Moderator: Tara Bushnoe, GM Upper Guadalupe River Authority


  • Dave Mauk – General Manager, Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater Conservation District
  • Bénédicte Rhyne – Winemaker, Wine Country Consulting
  • Bob Barker, President, C&M Precast Concrete

The Texas Water Symposium is a joint project of Schreiner University, the Hill Country Alliance, and Texas Public Radio.

TRINTTRANSCRIPTION OF PROGRAM (please forgive small typos)

[00:00:00] Don Frazier Good evening, and welcome to tonight's discussion of drought driven water stewardship. I'm Don Frazier. I'm the director of the TexS Center here at Shriner University, and this is our annual TexS talk. Like a TED talk, but with the accent on Texas. All right. So working in concert on this project is my good friend, Matt Goodwin. Is he around? Oh, he's in the back. All right. Trust us, he's back there. He's a fine looking specimen. And his team at the Mountaineer Leadership Academy. But all of us are tagging along tonight with Dr. Chris Distel's annual Texas Water Symposium. So tonight, our focus is on how the Lone Star state drinks water. Okay when it comes to water, Texas is a tough neighborhood. You know, a lot of people don't realize this, but there is only one natural lake in this state. And that's Caddo Lake, which we have to split with Louisiana (which is embarrassing)! So water is a big deal, clearly--and if you live in the Hill Country, you especially know this--the Texas population is booming, absolutely booming. And this population is also thirsty. Building is up. Tourism is up. Other industries are also up in the state of Texas. But all of this prosperity and activity runs on water. Meanwhile, the Hill Country has been in one of the most significant and protracted droughts in living memory. There are pressures on our water supply both above and below ground. And who knows what impact the shifting climate may have on the state. There needs to be some intentional planning now to get ahead of the water curve. We don't want to end up like places in Nevada or Arizona or California that are rapidly drying up. There needs to be some intentional planning so that that does not occur. But fear not. Tonight, we have gathered a panel of aqua experts. To give us some insights into where we've been, and today, maybe point us towards some solutions. From concrete aquifers, from wine to water. There is a complete matrix of Texas sustainability issues represented tonight. We hope you leave refreshed from your deep dive into this pool of knowledge. I apologize for the dad jokes, but I'm getting to a certain age where it just comes naturally. Please welcome Schreiner's own Dr. Chris Distel, professor of biology and Field Station director here at Schreiner University, and Marisa Bruno of the Hill Country Alliance. Thank you.

[00:03:50] Marisa Bruno That is a tough act to follow. I'm Marisa Bruno, I'm the water program manager at the Hill Country Alliance. I'm just going to say a few words about the Texas Water Symposium so you all know what it is. So this is kind of historically been a collaboration between the Hill Country Alliance, Schreiner, Texas Tech and Texas Public Radio. We hosted these public free to the public recorded sessions focused on water. And the goal is just to get folks thinking about water and more informed on water, because, as Don said, the decisions that we make today about our water resources are going to affect not just us, but Texans for generations to come. So I'm so grateful to be here tonight and I'm so grateful to Chris for pulling a lot of the work here, getting us here at Schreiner. And with that, I'll kick it off to Chris.

[00:04:43] Chris Distel Thank you very much. We're delighted to have you here at Shriner. Some of you come from quite a long ways away, and we appreciate that. And we also appreciate if you walked across campus. That's wonderful. We've got a panel of folks here who I'm very excited for you to to hear from. These are folks who are absolutely members of our communities here in the Hill country. There are people who are probably influencing your life all the time in ways that you don't even know about. So we're excited to hear what their experiences have been. And in order to do that, I'm delighted to introduce our moderator tonight, Tara Bushnoe is the general manager for the Upper Guadalupe River Authority here in Kerrville. And incidentally, is involved in just about every other aspect of our community as well. But that's her current professional title. So without further ado, I will introduce Tara Bushnoe.

L to R: Dave Mauk, Bénédicte Rhyne, Bob Barker
Armando Medina
L to R: Dave Mauk, Bénédicte Rhyne, Bob Barker

[00:05:40] Tara Bushnoe Well, good evening, everyone. Thank you all for spending your evening with us and looking forward to our discussion. Let's first hear from our panelists. So have y'all introduce yourselves, just state your name and so that we can all learn a little bit about you. Dave.

[00:05:57] Dave Mauk My name's Dave. Oh, you told me to do this. My name's Dave Mauk. I'm the general manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District.

[00:06:06] Bénédicte Rhyne Hi, my name is Bénédicte Rhyne, owner of Wine Country Consulting in Fredericksburg, Texas.

[00:06:13] Bob Barker My name's Bob Barker. I'm the president of Hill Country Concrete C&M Precast here in Kerrville.

[00:06:20] Tara Bushnoe Wonderful. So we have we have quite a mix of speakers. And I wondered first start our discussion by setting the stage for our conversation and kind of recap our current drought conditions where we are now. So I don't think it's news to any of us here that we are in a severe drought and that those conditions persisted throughout the whole country for all of 2022. So in Kerrville, the rainfall totaled 12.38 inches. During 2022, that was the annual total, 60% below our normal amount of 30 inches. And for Kerrville, that 2022 ranked the driest year that has been recorded at the weather station that I referenced. And so, you know, quite significant. And what you see our cities, our public water systems, groundwater management districts across the hill country, that they exercise their drought contingency plans and as water levels and supply is kind of triggered those different restrictions, few, if any, have decreased their water, their drought stage. And when summer ended because it just has not rained, we've continued to have a lack of rain and a healthy spring flow in the west in western Kerr County, coming out of the Edwards Trinity Plateau Aquifer is really kept the Guadalupe River in Kerr County flowing blue. It flows throughout Kerrville all summer long, but certainly at diminished rates, and the lowest level recorded was about two cubic feet per second in August. And so that is an actual trickle compared to the normal amount for that time of year. The Guadalupe River in Kirk County did stop flowing at the surface near CenterPoint as it diminished into the gravel. But despite these conditions, you know, the Upper Guadalupe River in Kerr County really fared better than some of our other hill country rivers where the Frio and the Pedernales, as well as the Llano flow rates dropped to zero and we had stagnant pools with gravel or bare bedrock in between. So I just wanted to start with Dave to talk a little bit about the impact that the drought has had on the Medina River and on groundwater levels in your district.

[00:08:31] Dave Mauk Okay. In our district we have the headwaters of the San Antonio Basin and that's the Medina River. We also do have the Sabine River in another basin that is the headwaters are part of the headwaters of the Nueces basin. So when you see impacts at the headwaters, that that's really troubling as far as the river? Pretty much there wasn't one. Only different areas of it were still flowing up by the headwaters of the north and west prong. Other parts of it were completely, completely dried up. It's actually it's sad when you see it. And it's you can imagine just what that does to our ecosystem. I mean, you got fish kills. You got habitat going as far as aquatic plants, mussels dying off. So the rivers suffer horribly. We also have Medina Lake in our county that is fed by that river. So Medina Lake's now below 6%. So that's really crushing in a lot of ways. As far as the aquifer. It's been very stressed. We've seen wells going dry in different areas of the county. The eastern part of the county, some of the central part, wells actually have gone dry. We've seen wells drilled that only made 3 to 5 gallons a minute. This is an exceptional drought and it's punishing. Part of the problem we have where we are is people see the San Antonio News and they hear what the Edwards Aquifer is doing and they see, oh, it's at this level. The aquifer in this area does not respond that way. The reality of what's happening at your place could be completely different than what's happening down the street. So that makes it very challenging. So we have seen people having a hall watering. We've seen people suffering as far as the river. We've had to do quite a few different things to try to help it out. Sounds funny to help it out. We've actually done some fishery relocations where we see fish that were in pools of water that were out. They were going to go they were going to be gone. I don't know. We took them up to the headwaters. I don't know that it really helped a lot, but it made us feel like we were doing something anyway. But those fish appreciated it. Also, the water quality, that's something people don't think about when you start pulling water up and it's 100 degrees out. You have some constituents in there that are pretty scary. And most of them, everybody looks at equally equalize the problem. It's a you know, it's an indicator we look at it. But there's a lot of other nasty stuff that thrives in stagnant water. You know, you've got amoebas, protozoa. They're not easy to test for either. And. It's just... We tried to warn people, we would put out warnings not to get in the river, but you'd be surprised how many people just don't listen. And there's a reason we chlorinate pool. You get those pulled up river beds, you get feral hogs in them, and you get a lot of different animals in them. And I would just tell anybody here, if you go in the rivers around here and it's hot and it's not flowing. I would not get it.

[00:11:50] Tara Bushnoe Yes, certainly widespread effects throughout and they are compounding. So wildlife coming to waterways, looking for additional sources that also, you know, further decrease water quality as well. So, yes, definitely significant impacts on the Medina River.

[00:12:07] Bob Barker Dave, could I can I ask one thing? So you're talking about the water that's pooling. Has there been any way to tell how much that affects by it penetrating... I mean, it pools, but then it moves on. Does it pass on into the possibly the.

[00:12:22] Tara Bushnoe Into the...

Examining a watershed map of the area.
Armando Medina
Examining a watershed map of the area.

[00:12:22] Bob Barker Subsurface water. Yeah, the groundwater?

[00:12:23] Dave Mauk Yeah. They don't move through the gravels. One of the problems here, a lot of the wells in the area are in the Middle Trinity. The Middle Trinity major constituent that they were in is the Cow Creek. These wells are almost 500 feet deep. So we've never been able to really find a recharge structure. We've looked for them where water out of the river is getting down into the Cow Creek. Now, we do know anecdotally and through science of measuring it, that when the river's up top offers up, but it's also raining more when we have this kind of drought. It affects the aquifer, it affects the river. It affects our spring flow. The Medina River is spring fed. So when we don't have these rains, the spring shut off and that's where the problem comes.

[00:13:11] Tara Bushnoe And with the diminished spring flow and low levels in the river, I mean, certainly we saw that during 2022. And unfortunately there were familiar circumstances for many people coming on the heels of the 2011 drought so quickly. I think that 2011 was much more widespread of a drought across Texas for sure. But I feel like it was the metrics show it was just as intense in our region in central Texas, where almost a bull's eye for the drought. One big difference is that it did rain in the fall of 2011 and we are still waiting for that. The you know, looking forward to 2023 relief might come sometime later in the year. They're predicting that La Nina will weaken, which would bring more favorable conditions for routine rainfall. And I'm looking forward to that for sure. So I think it's fair to say that we've all been impacted by drought, whether it's through water restrictions or by witnessing the diminished rivers, by looking out at our own brown crunchy landscaping in addition to those impacts on everyday life. Certain industries have been severely impacted by drought and agriculture and ranching are always at the top of that list. In July 2022, the Farm Service Agency in Texas announced that severe and widespread drought conditions are having a catastrophic impact on crops, on grazing acres, livestock and agricultural operations statewide. And I spoke with our local Farm Service agency agent today, and he said that drought, you know, has had a huge impact on local ranchers. That's certainly no surprise. There's been very little local grass production which results in haybeing shipped in from even other states, even from New Mexico. And economic conditions really present a double whammy for those folks as hay prices are 2 to 4 times higher than they were a year ago. I think he said $14 for a 60 pound bale of hay, which is more than double what it was last year. The Farm Service Agency assists has assistance payments to help alleviate some of those increased costs that farmers and ranchers are encountering as they have to transport water and feed further distances to their their livestock. But certainly it doesn't cover everything. And folks have sold off stock that they've never had to do before and maybe not knowing if they'll ever be able to get back in and buy it back. Acute impacts on rangelands can that maybe have never fully recovered since 2011, that we just have that compounded even though it was 12 years ago, some rangeland hasn't fully recovered. And I talked with a ranch owner near Stonewall who said that they've always had grazing land for 40 years on their property and never had had issues with stocking. But now for the first time that they're dealing with bare ground and overgrazing and those impacts can travel further through your watersheds. We don't do we have drought, We have not enough range now. We have bare ground and when it does rain, you have increased runoff and erosion and even encroachment of some of our woody species increases too. So two of our panelists tonight, Bénédicte and Bob, represent industries that aren't necessarily the first that come to mind when we discuss drought impacts. They aren't ranchers. They're not commodity crop farmers or water supply system operators, but they certainly are still acutely aware of drought impacts in the hill country. And so I think you're going to really enjoy hearing from them tonight. And my first question is for Benedict. Your industry, wine industry has been growing in the hill country over the past few decades, and I don't know much about how water is used in winemaking. So can you tell us a little bit about the source of water at the Vineyard and how water is used during the process?

[00:17:00] Bénédicte Rhyne Yes, Thank you, Tara. So, yes, the wine industry has been really growing tenfold in the past 20 years. So it's pretty pretty big just for four kegs on average to produce a glass of wine. It takes about 120 liters. That's about 32 gallons. That's about 180 gallons per bottles of wine is just for sake of comparison to produce a kilo of cheese. It's about 1300 gallons. And to produce a kilos of chocolate, it's about 5400 gallons. So that gives you really an insight that vineyards actually don't use a lot of water. We in the Hill Country, usually you need about 12 to 15 gallons per vines during the growing season. The growing season is from the 1st of April to usually the 1st of June, so that's about less than 90,000 gallons per acre also in the winemaking. World. You need to have vines that are a little stress. So you need to accommodate them to to deal with surviving with little water. So drought, you know, if you if you really train them to to do that, then you use a little less water and they're a little more resistant to drought. We use groundwater. Most of the vineyard are probably on groundwater the most. So this is on the vineyard side, on the winemaking is on the production side. That's probably where we use the most water. Our high demand for water is during harvest, so that's usually from August to October. But on average every year we use about 90 less than 90,000 gallons per ton of grapes. So just giving you some numbers there.

[00:19:04] Tara Bushnoe Yes. Wow. That was great perspective. Thank you. And Bob, certainly water is ingredient and ingredient in the concrete making process. But can you tell us a bit about the source of water for your business and what type of products you make that are related to water infrastructure?

[00:19:19] Bob Barker Well, yes. Well, the water we use is is basically city water, which comes from groundwater. It takes about 32 gallons of water for every cubic yards of concrete that's produced. We produce a array of products both in the potable water, agricultural water and then wastewater. You know, we see quite a we see the drought on both ends. We see it all the minute it starts rain. And people are quite severely deceived that our drought is over. And when it's dry, our phone rings off the wall. But the products that we make, we see every day coming in to play with the things that they've talked about. But the water quality, we we have systems that store water above ground and that's to help to improve the water quality. We're seeing a lot of wells that are coming in with a much higher mineral and iron content that you might normally not see. A lot of sulfur, a lot of things like that, that yeah, I don't know how many people are on wells, but how many of you have picked up a hose and put it and it stinks like rotten eggs. It's that your sulfur in your water. And so the things that, that we produce help to alleviate that, unfortunately our products don't stop a drought. We're just there to to help educate folks.

[00:20:59] Tara Bushnoe And you just mentioned an interesting fact that, you know, water the different qualities of water. Do you think that is because of where the wells drilled or that they're having to go deeper with those and getting into less desirable water?

[00:21:13] Bob Barker I think it's a lot of a lot of all of that. And I think I think what we're seeing, you know, they've commented on the fact that we're seeing wells go dry. What we hear is people are which is the same difference. They are having their pumps dropped or you can only drop it to a certain point. It depends on how deep. But in that, they're seeing a lot of poor quality. And so the range, you know, years ago wells were were easily dug at a much shallower rate. And I can give you an example. We have a place on the Pedernales and you can go a quarter of a mile up the road are well is at 80 feet and we've got fantastic water for right now. We had fantastic water and you go a quarter of a mile up the road and it's 500 feet. So I don't know the I'm not smart enough to tell you exactly how it and why, but there's the different things that affect our our aquifers that that really make a difference. So the water quality has definitely.

[00:22:15] Tara Bushnoe Can change during drought.

[00:22:17] Bob Barker Big time.

[00:22:20] Tara Bushnoe Bénédicte, how does the drought impact the winemaking business, and what are some ways that the all in different techniques you implement to conserve water?

Texas Water Symposium at Schreiner University, Feb. 22, 2023.
Armando Medina
Texas Water Symposium at Schreiner University, Feb. 22, 2023.

[00:22:29] Bénédicte Rhyne Yeah. So this past year, 2022 was a real challenge for the vineyards, for sure. We had to balance not only the the drought, the lack of of water, but also the intense heat that came with it. So as you know, last year was extreme heat for a long time. That's very hard on the plants. So, you know, high temperature definitely affected the vineyards, especially during flowering. It really, you know, especially for variety that's very sensitive to to shadow which means they and unable to pollinate. So that really decreases, you know, production of of grapes and and in essence tonnage for for for the wineries. So the water management was super crucial this year for vineyards. And so as in some some ways you know vineyard and vine growers are really already attuned to water management just for the reason I said earlier. We want the vines to be a little stressed, but not too much stressed, stressed to the point of dying. So it's a it's a great it's a really good balance, you know, between having enough water and and and not too much water. So we want to make sure that the the vine is able to have what it needs to survive and not use too much. So as far as the vineyard, the winery side, there is many, many ways in the winery we can really limit our use in sanitation. Of course, making wine, even though it's a great potential for changing water to wine that we don't have to worry about. The issues you have in blazing in the in the thing we're producing alcohol so it's it's those those bacteria don't survive in alcohol by the way. And so but but we still need to have really good sanitation programs. So sanitation use you have many, many different ways of sanitizing. And you can use chemicals, but ways to reduce water use is, for example, the ability to use steam in sanitation that uses a lot of less water. And also when you cleaning equipment, especially the high peak of harvest, using a pressure washer that has high, you know, pressure, low volume is very important. And so wine wineries have been already equipped with that those methodologies for very, very long time. So probably one of the leaders of that. So using as little water as we can to do the job.

[00:25:23] Tara Bushnoe Wonderful, delicate balance for sure, since it's used in so many different areas in the process. And Bob, since one of the products that you make is our water storage tanks, I'd guess that demand for those products, like you mentioned before, increases during a drought. So even though you might be making more product during the drought, are there ways that you're able to encourage conservation with your customers and talk with them about their water needs?

[00:25:48] Bob Barker Yes, we try to kind of... Go back to really how it's... What we're seeing is so many people that come in that have never really understood where water comes from. And so they're they they come in our place and they'll say, I need 20,000 gallons of storage. And you will ask them, you know, how much water do you think you use a day? And most people don't have a clue as to how much water a family normally needs. Now, if you're doing excess of water and it's different, so we try to get people to understand that, you know, every well that's drilled is a straw. And as we continue to pull out of it, even though we've got we build our storage tanks to improve their water, that that we have to be conservative. So we try to send the message to them that, you know, you can't just turn on the water because it's your water. You know, there's been lots of questions about different ways to monitor wells and things like that. You know, people have got to be good stewards. And what we try to do and it's is inform them then how much water they actually need, get them to be conscious about how much water they need and whether or not that water is being put to good use. And so, yes, we do try to send that message.

[00:27:14] Tara Bushnoe Have you found that people are more inclined to want to store way more water than they need or not enough.

[00:27:21] Bob Barker For a.

[00:27:21] Tara Bushnoe Storage.

[00:27:22] Bob Barker ...tank when they first walk in? It's they want the 50,000. And I mean, we have people come in just with exorbitant amount. And when you talk to them and you start looking at you know, this kind of relate it, it's, you know, three or 400 gallons a day is a lot of water from any. Right. Dave? I mean, it's so when you start thinking about that, that's a full use family, which is what we're treating in the wastewater end of it, which you're pulling the water out, it's got to go somewhere. So you that's how you kind of come up with your quantities that you use. But. Okay.

[00:27:58] Tara Bushnoe So, yes, so we heard from Bénédicte that she's primarily on ground water. And Bob is, you know, in the city of Kerrville, where y'all are, is the combination of surface water and groundwater as well. And so in Bandera County, what are your sources of water and in different industries and how are they using water that we haven't mentioned yet?

[00:28:18] Dave Mauk All right. The majority of it in Bandera County is going to be out of the aquifer. There is are some people that got riparian rights out of the river for domestic livestock and out of the creeks. Well, that's not, you know, something they can really rely on. The Medina and the Sabinal is quite a bit different than the Guadalupe. So everything's coming out of Trinity. We have some Edwards It's not contiguous with the Edwards in San Antonio. It's in the western end of the county. They don't really communicate between each other, but there's some out there. That's where most of our spring flow comes from. Some out of the upper middle Trinity. The majority of the wells for domestic livestock are going to be in the Middle Trinity Aquifer and a lot of them are going to be in the lower Glen Rose, or they're going to be in the Cow Creek. Now, the Lower Trinity is a pretty deep aquifer. There's really no natural communication in Bandera County between the lower and Middle Trinity. The reason everybody's in the middle is lower. Trinity got some pressure and you got to cement it and we really should you steel casing. So those wells are very expensive wells, but you'll see like the city of Bandera, that's on the lower Trinity, some of the public water supplies that are on lower Trinity's. So the problem people are like, well, the middle Trinity starts to get problems. Can't we just go to the lower? You could if you could afford it. The problem with the lower Trinity. As we've stated that water. And it's about 20,000 years old. So you all tell me. I mean, there's some recharge there, but it's pretty much a mining situation. The recharge is not coming directly from the surface. The middle Trinity. The water is not as old, but we only got about 3 to 4% recharge directly from the surface. Most everything's coming laterally. The water is coming from western Kerr County, moving down this way toward San Antonio. It just the lower tree takes a long time. So that's basically where most of the water's going to come from. What's the other part of your question?

[00:30:23] Tara Bushnoe Talking about industries in Bandera County and kind of impacts of the drought that we haven't haven't mentioned yet?

[00:30:30] Dave Mauk Well, the industry's been there, county. We don't have a lot of manufacturing for a variety of reasons. One, where we are, and to our water quality tends to go from bad to atrocious. When you got water, it's been sitting down there a long time. It tends to pick up some things, if you know what I mean. We got TDS's in some areas of the county that I wouldn't put it on my grass. TDS being Total Dissolved Solids.

[00:30:53] Tara Bushnoe That would come from things like high sulfates and yes minerals.

[00:30:57] Dave Mauk And it just, you know, you wouldn't want to drink it. My well? I can't drink my well. So the industries that really are mostly in banner carries tourism, ranching and there's irrigation. We don't have a ton of irrigation because, well, you know what the soil looks like here and you got bad water quality, but there is some. So I would think it the impact mostly has been the tours and tours, the irrigation, some of it's ranching, it affects them because they're got to pump harder. And when you get into exceptional drought, one of the things you don't want to do is pump harder. But you got to because you're not getting the rainfall. But the tourism, everybody wants to come to the Medina and Sabino River. Well, there isn't one. So it'll come back eventually. So I feel like that's really been impacted. We have a lot of game ranches that's impacted, talked about, and that goes under tourism. You could call it ranching. But you also talked about, you know, not any grass production. Well, it's hard to raise exotics. It's hard to raise things when you don't have grass and you've got to feed them all the time. So I think there's a variety of things that are happening to the industries. But the main thing is also the esthetics. People I don't think are they're not going to come here to go jump in the river or go kayaking or tubing right now.

[00:32:18] Tara Bushnoe You mentioned before, you know, it rains once and folks think that the drought is over and kind of our flash flood prone hill country rivers. Add to that a little bit sometimes with that perception, because we'll have you know, we might have a couple inches of rain and the river will come up so quickly and change in a day. But then it doesn't it doesn't last.

[00:32:37] Dave Mauk Well, here, here's a couple of things I'll get into that. But one, we have like an eight inch rain, I believe, in some areas last year and the river didn't move because part of the problem you get when it gets is hardly gets as dry is that there's soil, moist moisture, it's gone. You know, we had the Memorial Day floods. I'm sure you all remember that. I think we got three and a half, four inches of rain. And look what happened. We got eight and we didn't even see the gauge go up. So that's a problem. This area is drought. That's what I keep trying to tell everybody. We're not that far from the desert. We're I would say we're constantly in drought broken by periods of flood. Yes. And then everybody forgets. And a lot of people don't realize this. Before Hurricane Harvey, the record was being their county. In 1978, the Medina River had the base flow of the Mississippi then. And if you can imagine that 50 inches of unconfirmed reports of rain in the town above the town of Medina. Right where I live, so. But it gets broken and everybody relaxes and they think it's fine. And you get a few wet years because everything's got charged up. But it always seems to come back. We are. We're getting ready to do some tree ring, a tree ring data. We're going to look at some. They've done it before west of us. And some of the droughts were 20 plus years. So to me, that's not all. We're in a drought. That's a reality. So I hope that's not the case here. But people cannot, as soon as it rains, go back to the status quo, they need to constantly conserve in this area.

[00:34:13] Tara Bushnoe And coinciding with our current drought conditions is also a continuation or even acceleration of growth in the hill country with with water demand. So, you know, what are future planning steps that Bandera County has taken to manage the impact of that increased demand on and a limited groundwater source.

[00:34:33] Dave Mauk Well, one thing to remember my district's name is Bandera County River Authority. We're not county government, we're a political subdivision of state of Texas. So what the county does and what we do are two separate things in this particular case. What we did, the subdivision rules and our rules were saying if you wanted to exempt domestic, well, that would be exempt by state standards. You had to have at least a five acre lot. Well, we started seeing these subdivisions coming in and we started seeing their water availability studies and. The data was not good. So I brought it to my board and we went up to ten acres and I might be something. We have to even go more. Now, if somebody already had a well, they can get it. You know, you can't change the rules that somebody wants. The game starts, but any of the new subdivisions, if they got platted in order to get a regular domestic well, there's other types they can get that would be restricted. They would have to have ten acres. The county followed suit. Commissioners court moved their subdivision rules up to ten acres. And it makes sense to me across because one of the things they do want a subdivision to be in the area county comes in, a water availability study has to be generated by the applicant. The applicant has to give it to us, we have to review it and we give a recommendation to the county commissioners on whether they should go forward or not. They can do whatever they want, but they do hold our recommendation pretty high. So that's the biggest thing that we've been doing, that in education, trying to get people to understand that they have to conserve, they've got to protect their well. They can't just act like it's, you know, East Texas or Eastern Kentucky and what are the grass all the time and all got to look at the reality of where we live. So that's been a big component, moving up the ten acres.

[00:36:25] Tara Bushnoe And that's education.

[00:36:27] Dave Mauk Countywide. And it might end up being more. We're going to see how this plays out because a lot of subdivisions are coming in the area. A lot of people are moving here. Y'all live here. I'm sure you've looked and seen what's happening just by the traffic on the road. The amount of wells that are being popped and being their county is dizzying. They got it all go through us, We inspect them, we approval or disapproval. But groundwater is a master property right in Texas and it's a balancing act. You have to. Follow our mission of protecting the natural resources of the area for the state of Texas. That's what we're told to do. And one of it's the aquifer. You've got to balance that. You've got to balance the rights of the applicant coming in to get that well. And then you have to balance that with the rights of the people that are already there. So it is a really delicate thing to do and. We take our job and mission very serious. And one of the biggest things we do to help protect the resources and help mitigate these droughts is to follow those guidelines in our mission statement and protect the natural resources for the state of Texas.

[00:37:44] Tara Bushnoe And a similar step was taken to Incur County with the Headwaters Groundwater Conservation District recently increased minimum lot size for an Eastern Kerr management zone from five up to seven, and that change was also incorporated into Kerr County subdivision rules. So there are there are other examples too as well, and across the region, because certainly that's the similar drought conditions and similar aquifer as well. So let's kind of switch to the water supply side of treatment side of the equation. Bob, you mentioned before that one of the other products that your seller, septic tanks, both conventional and advanced treatment systems. Can you tell us a little bit how the treatment and of the water use helps to protect the resource as well?

[00:38:31] Bob Barker Well, the regular septic system, you know, most of your places outside of a city that do not have a wastewater system but are either conventional or what we call advanced treatment. Conventional systems are meant to be designed, and it's all based upon the soil that you're in the area of. But they're designed to treat the water to where it's it's completely the I don't want to get too technical in the the the bugs that basically are produced to break down the bacteria and things like that. So good septic systems, if you think about it, where is that water going? If you have a good septic system and you have it put in properly and you maintain it, which most folks don't understand about what we can and can't put in septic systems. When you fall over into the advanced systems, which was part of a study that's been done years ago through UGRA, and that was to look at the different soil qualities and whether they would actually change and do their job as far as treating the bacteria. So we produce a advanced treatment, which is an aerobic system. Then a lot of misconceptions about aerobic systems, mainly because anything not taken care of, just like a car or anything else will not produce a good in product. Some of the advantages that you can have with the advanced treatment system is you can use it for some small irrigation. You know, it's not something that's going to keep a big giant lawn green. You can go slightly subsurface in and irrigate. So you get some advantages there, which keeps us from using groundwater. So we're reusing it just like they're using the golf courses and things like that. So, you know, part of I think part of our overall stewardship for water needs to be both the water that we take in and the water that we put out because they're tied together. You just don't see the one that you put out. It's hidden. And so, so many people that come in here think they've come from the city, which I did 46 years ago. But you come from the city and when you dispose of it is gone. Unfortunately, it's not gone. It's in the ground that we're going to have water penetrating to go down to hopefully recover our systems or aquifers and things like that. So, you know, those are those are things that, if used properly, can help the advanced systems. The you know, in the in your winemaking, you know, there's talk about the different areas and industries where before our waste was considered completely unusable and all the water content, it was completely unusable. Well, there's treatments now that are far advanced that we can actually take and recover a huge amount of that water and and use it for different applications that may take the place of our surface water or groundwater.

[00:41:52] Tara Bushnoe Yes, certainly conservation be achieved by using the right source of water for the right job and reuse Water is a wonderful option so that we're not putting potable water out for for irrigation too. So Bénédicte, he kind of tried to steal your thunder a bit by getting in on your industry, but what are some ways that water is.

[00:42:12] Bénédicte Rhyne Reused.

[00:42:13] Tara Bushnoe In the winemaking industry to maximize the resource?

[00:42:17] Bénédicte Rhyne Yeah, so we just like Bob was mentioning, we we create a lot of wastewater in in the wine production area. So like I mentioned earlier. So there are ways where you can recoup that water. So irrigated pond similar to what you're mentioning, reverse osmosis, which is very expensive. So I don't really know many wineries that are using it, but that could be a way to recoup some some pretty clean water. But there's also vermin culture. So using earthworms and and there are many wineries in California that are using that method of using earthworm to because of course, wastewater from wineries are very organic. So grape, you know grape stuff and yeast use deposit from from the fermentation. So those are organic matter. So using earthworms to to biodegrade those, those organic matters. And and then we use the water for irrigation for vineyards. So there are a lot of things you can do to recoup the water. And I agree with you, Bob, this is kind of the way to go. I kind of have this image, you know, like, you know, of the sea and people who are on the boat. And if they run out of water, what they do, they decide to fight the thing. So if we can look at that the same way, you know, we use our water, the water that we use for our waste in the wineries, we can recoup and and reuse and of course, being stored and not using too much water in the first place. So, yes, thank you. Thanks for that.

[00:43:57] Tara Bushnoe Dave. And I certainly think and talk about water every day and the aspect I most enjoyed about getting to know our panelists has really been to learn, learn about your industries and learn about ways that you're amazingly knowledgeable about water supplies and use and treatment, and that you demonstrate that stewardship ethic daily with those that you'd interact. So I'd like to wrap up our panel discussion portion with just some closing thoughts from you about how we can improve stewardship either within your own industries or just in general. So, Bob, I think we'll start with you. Final thoughts?

[00:44:34] Bob Barker Well, as far as how we could improve the stewardship and how we can, I think things like what I see here, I think if we could just get the message out. All of us. And and get people aware. I found in my business it's not really people being defiant. It's being people that don't know. And I can say that for myself. It's learning every day the different things. I just in our conversations with Dave, the things that I was completely oblivious when I turned on my TV and I saw the aquifer go up, I that. We're in good shape. And then I find out has nothing to do with where I live. So but I think that, you know, the more open and the more willing people are to be to have discussion and not be afraid of it, not be afraid of waste. We deal with it. It can be treated. But most of all, take care of of what we have and just pass that message along.

[00:45:43] Tara Bushnoe Thank you, Bénédicte.

[00:45:45] Bénédicte Rhyne Yes. So life, you know, water is life. And so that's something that really, really need to treasure. Coming from Europe... I grew up in France. Water is something that we really we were really careful taking showers, brushing our teeth. And I have a little anecdote about that. When I grew up, we had an an American girl who came and spent the summer with us. She was 15 years old, the same age as me, and she took a shower for like 45 minutes. And my my parents were appalled. They were like, how could you take a shower for 45 minutes? So just the conscientiousness of of of of just you don't need to take a shower for 45 minutes. So those little things like really matters because you multiply this by millions, it's a lot of water. So I was raised like that. We just and every European person I promise you can vouch for that. Take care of our earth. Yeah.

[00:46:49] Bob Barker You know, just with what you said there made me think. I know there's a fellow here that does rainwater catchment, and we've done some of that. But one of the interesting things that came out of what what was just said is this gentleman put in a rainwater catchment system and took his will as his backup in his rainwater. But what he came to me and he said, you know how I'd learned how to shower? He says, I shower like I'm in an RV. He says, I shut off the water, soap up and rinse off. And I mean, I don't know how to calculate how much water that would save, but I'll bet it's phenomenal.

[00:47:24] Tara Bushnoe And there's probably some balance between the Coast Guard shower and the 45 minute princess shower. But I think there's all ways that we can improve for sure.

[00:47:35] Bénédicte Rhyne Yes. Don't don't tell this to your 15 year old boy... teenager. You only have to wash longer.

[00:47:43] Tara Bushnoe I think they need to soap up a little longer, those guys. Yeah. Dave.

[00:47:49] Dave Mauk I recommend you all shower. [laughter] Save in other ways, please! Oh, the biggest thing is education is getting people to understand the reality of where we are. I don't think there's anybody in this room that would argue with me with this, but when we moved in the drought restrictions, I had people calling up, arguing with me, telling me there's an unlimited supply of water and there's plenty of it there. And I mean, we're in exceptional drought. There's nothing past exceptional drought. That's the talk. It's it's there. It is. And people were arguing. I said, good, look at the river. I mean. Look at the lake. So people need to be educated. We have a robust education program. Corinne and Charlie are here. They were out there with the model. They go around to the ISDs, they go, we give before the plague. We're coming through the plague now. So we didn't do as much. We had to do social media plagues, COVID. We were given a lot of talks, a lot of education talks were starting to gear back up again and they got into the ISDs and they work with the kids. They do some flood education, they do stuff about the water cycle and the kids are really engaged. And I really want to get the kids because they're, you know, that's where you get the press propaganda, you get the kids, and then they go home and they tell their parents. And it's surprising how engaged the kids are. And that's the most important thing people need to understand. They need to protect themselves. They need to save water when they can. Just commonsense things like plant native stuff, you know, don't plant things when it comes to water, because even if you can't the water, this kind of drought, they're probably still going to die. That's what people need to understand. We've got a lot of people moving here from other areas and they don't understand the reality of where we are. So I think that's the biggest thing is that we've got to get the population to work together because like my agency can only do so much. The population has to come together and they've got to conserve water.

[00:50:01] Tara Bushnoe Water is certainly a unifying topic and one that we are all interested in and really have a close connection to in our drought prone region. And thank you all very much for don't for dedicating your evening to visit with us. And certainly there's something that we can all do to improve our water supply and our water quality. And just hearing from the diversity of how water impacts other industries as well has been really beneficial to me. So please join me in thanking our panelists for this evening. So that was a little stagecraft, because I'm told that this is going to be broadcast on the radio and we needed an applause stopping point. But now we're we're happy to take some questions from the audience. So if you have a question for our panelists, please raise your hand.

Armando Medina

[00:50:56] Tara Bushnoe Yes, sir.

[00:50:59] Audience member All right. This is maybe a hard one. You mentioned awkward for a moment, which is that we're taking more water than we replenished in the long term. So I guess this is kind of a question for both you and Tara. What are some solutions? And you have communities that are groundwater dependent and they're growing. Are there allergy solutions or what are some options to make sure that we're not non-preferred at the point I was.

[00:51:25] Dave Mauk So you picking on her or me?

[00:51:31] Audience member [inaudible] for both of you.

[00:51:32] Tara Bushnoe Sure. I think, you know, you see that I don't know the statistics off the top of my head, but as we have improvements in infrastructure, improvements in the way that homes are built and communities are built, there is water savings in that. So often, even though we have growing communities, when focus is put on infrastructure and on fixing leaks and on more efficiency, that saves water and reduces your amount of water that you're using per person. And certainly the education component, one of our big messages that UGI is always kind of talking to people, figuring out what is it in your life, in your circumstances, where you can have a difference because there's always something that we can do. And so just continuing to keep people engaged with how they're using water in ways that they can improve it.

[00:52:19] Dave Mauk What she said? No. No. One of the things, Kerrville, Kerr County, was really instrumental in starting a hog for storage and recovery. And that's really helped. This area was innovative at the time. I think it was like one of the first ones, if not the first one in the United States. It doesn't work everywhere. It worked here. We've done feasibility studies about doing want to be in there.

[00:52:38] Audience member But it's on the storage and recovery.

[00:52:40] Dave Mauk Oh, it's it's mysterious. It's where you take surface water, take it in times it's there and you inject it into the aquifer. Now, the beauty of that is in this particular aquifer in the lower Trinity, it doesn't migrate that far. The problem you get in some aquifers, you inject it and it's gone. So it doesn't it tends to mount there. Another thing is to surface water as a better geochemistry for the most part than the groundwater here. So I talked about how bad the groundwater water quality can be. So when you inject it, you actually get a mound of water from the surface down there and then you get a mixing and then you get the native water. So it actually can help increase the water quality there. And it's been very successful. We're looking at it. Their problem is you get a drought like this, there's no there's nothing, no jet. And also they're not cheap and there is much smaller Kerrville. So we've also been looking at the feasibility of scalping stormwater. When that comes through in a big event, you scalp it, you treat it and then you inject that. So that's probably if we ever do it, that's probably what's going to have to happen because it just the river just doesn't is not consistent. So that's one of the biggest things I would like to see happen. We just got to continue to manage the growth. We're going to have growth in the Hill country. Everybody wants to live in the Hill country. You can't stop the growth, but you can try to manage and mitigate it, especially its impact on the water resources.

[00:54:22] Tara Bushnoe Another question.

[00:54:26] Audience member Thank you. This is for Benedicte. You mentioned a number, and I think you said tenfold growth or something like that in your industry. So given that we're in the extreme drought, how could that possibly be sustainable, that kind of growth if it continues?

[00:54:42] Bénédicte Rhyne Oh, you mean sustainable in which way?

[00:54:45] Audience member Well, you're saying that your industry is growing by leaps and bounds. It uses a lot of water. There has to be. How can that be sustainable in an extreme drought?

[00:54:57] Bénédicte Rhyne So that's what I was explaining earlier, that actually the industry is is not using that much water. If you're comparing this with cotton or I was, you know, giving the example of, you know, how much gallons you use to produce one kilos of cheese and chocolate was an example. But out of most of the agriculture industry I would save, vineyards are probably the least the the industry that uses the least amount of water. So and yes, there is, you know, wastewater we're talking about. Yes, but we're producing wine.

[00:55:36] Audience member Let me rephrase it, maybe a little bit better. If you if you continue at a ten fold growth, won't you catch up with cotton eventually?

[00:55:45] Bénédicte Rhyne I don't think so. Okay. I don't think so. I don't believe so.

[00:55:48] Audience member So this is a great segue from your question, sir, But I wanted to bring up ranching again and in particular livestock in Texas. And how much water is used not only for providing water for the animals but also for the food that they eat. And if we could talk a little bit more about that because I'm surprised it's fairly lacking in our discussion today.

[00:56:20] Tara Bushnoe So we don't have anyone on the panel that is in the ranching industry. And I guess I don't have those those stats in front of me to share. Could we maybe visit afterwards? And I could could get some resources for you.

[00:56:36] Audience member I'll give you a quick update on that. If a lot of people here don't know. But a minor story, we look at light at that because we're working for those farmers and ranchers out there. Give you an idea, just basically horse drinks 25 gallons a day, cow drinks 50 gallons a day. If it gets hotter, they drink more. So that'll help you with that. One of the things that this is kind of funny for Bob, he he went through the the ecosystem of water. But what he's basically saying, folks, is you may not be the first person that drank that glass of water you had today. So that's always in you know, Well, there's things I always tell everybody out in Las Vegas that they're definitely not the first ones if you didn't know it. He was referring to me. I'm the rainwater guy around here. I did Upper Guadalupe Rivers and several other people in this area. But one of the things that that I applaud Upper Guadalupe River Authority is they are extremely pro rainwater collection, and that's a good thing. The whole state is the whole state of Texas is for that. And if you're in a situation where you can put a rainwater system in, you're actually making a difference right there, right then in your becoming self self watered. Okay. And you're not have to rely on anything else. It doesn't impact the aquifer at all. There's been a huge study. Texas A&M did it, and they proved that it does not affect the aquifer at all. If we if everybody could catch it, that could it still wouldn't affect them, too, to come up with this. Just one of those things. And I'm always happy to answer rainwater questions. So here you go. All the things and I'm not real sure who I'd address this to, but. So are you saying then waste or water from an Arabic system might could be used in, say, hydroponics type system?

Leah Cuddeback, from Hill Country Alliance, speaks to attendees.
Armando Medina
Leah Cuddeback, from Hill Country Alliance, speaks to attendees.

[00:58:20] Bob Barker Sure. I mean, it's it's just when it's done, it's disinfected. And now when we do Arabic systems, now they're they're disinfected generally with chlorine. If you were going to use it in that chlorine probably wouldn't be your best bet. But you can. There's a lot of ultraviolet that's used and that was to to get away from that. There are also systems that will chlorinated after you chlorinated, and that's what a lot of places do. There's a lot of wastewater management that has just drawn leaps and bounds as far as how we can treat and what we can treat because, you know, like the byproducts and from grapes and sugars and things like that in meatpacking plants, the blood and things like that are really tough and they're tough on the effluent that goes out. But it's all the research has been done and then approved, improved every day to do that. But yet you could treat it. You just got to make sure you're maintaining your system. Like I said, it's just maintained properly. You know, back when aerobics first came out, people used to the people that were behind the system they were selling said they could go out and drink it. I'm not encouraging you to go out and do that. I've never done that. I just can't quite bring myself to do that. But but like he said a minute ago, there's a lot of water that's being re infused into the water supplies. But after it's been treated and usually that's through a U.V. system.

[00:59:57] Audience member Is the wine industry in the hill country on an organized in an organized way, working towards using water catchment as part of the their water use for their for the crops, for the vineyards.

[01:00:13] Tara Bushnoe Using a rainwater catchment system.

[01:00:15] Audience member Using on a very large scale using rainwater catchment.

[01:00:19] Bénédicte Rhyne I do not, I don't believe there is any organization, but I suppose that's definitely something that would be wonderful.

[01:00:27] Audience member It's becoming a huge organized industry, especially in Gillespie County. And I think that would be a great opportunity for a burgeoning industry that uses a lot of water to get together to say we endorse the, you know, the use of water catchment in, you know, watering the vineyards.

[01:00:47] Bénédicte Rhyne I think that's a wonderful idea. And there's a lot, you know, going to symposium all over the country. There's a lot of forums about sustainability that's encompassing all that. So water is part of it, of sustainability. So that's coming. But yes, I agree this is something that definitely should be should be, should be organized.

[01:01:12] Audience member This is more of private, you know, private enterprises taking the you know, taking a stand and moving forward. We can we can say there needs to be education and so on. But, you know, they they have a very prominent spot now in in the national marketing spotlight and everything. And this would be something that maybe the wine industry in the state of Texas can embrace.

[01:01:34] Bénédicte Rhyne I agree.

[01:01:35] Audience member And thank you.

[01:01:36] Tara Bushnoe I think we have one...

[01:01:38] Audience member I'll just do a follow up on your question, sir. First off, there are quite a few vineyards that are putting in rainwater collection systems. It would be impossible to put a big enough rainwater collection system in any vineyard to water the vineyard. That means you'd have to have a collection service the size of the vineyard. That'd be impossible. But however, because they use such low water, they can collect enough water to help offset or maybe even completely 100% offset when they're making in the wine processing. Okay. How many gallons would take for one bottle?

[01:02:14] Bénédicte Rhyne Well, that's yeah, it's about 180 gallons.

[01:02:19] Audience member Okay. See, that can be offset because a lot of these vineyards have huge buildings and they can put them in. A lot of them are. But to water the to do landscaping, it's almost impossible to do that Size.

[01:02:31] Bénédicte Rhyne Cost is is a big one because believe me, we've looked at it and you know, building a winery and building a production facility is very expensive and it's a long term, you know, recoup. So this is would be an additional things that you would be asking wineries to do. And, of course. I know where you're going, so I get it. But yeah, more often. Yes.

[01:02:57] Tara Bushnoe And certainly when you're when you're manufacturing a consumable product, there are rules for the water source and the treatment. And so those questions would need to be resolved as well before using a non-potable supply.

[01:03:11] Audience member I'm just going to say I don't know anything about Schreiner's water system, but is there a way that we could imply, like a rain catching system to like maybe water the fields or...?

[01:03:23] Tara Bushnoe So you have a rain water catchment system over at the field station... And that was put in recently to water the community, the community garden that's over at the field station. I'm not sure if I'm describing where it is accurately, but that would be a great place to see it. See a rainwater catchment system in action that it drains off of that that area and is available to water the crops there. And we have a lot of wonderful examples within the community for rainwater collection and I'm sure that we could find another, another roof, another application for rain water catchment that Schriner. Yeah, I don't, we'll talk after. Why don't we get that started. Wonderful. Okay, one more question. So, Dave.

[01:04:04] Audience member You said that you do not drink your water. Do you get bottled water for drinking water or should we put additional filter on our well water?

[01:04:15] Dave Mauk Yeah, I get bottled water. My water is so hard it would be really expensive to try to treat it. I mean, I started to get a hobby of doing houseplants and then I moved there. And guess what? They don't like the water. So I got a filtered at least for the houseplants and the animals. But it's really hard to TD's is like 1400. And it's so it's it's brackish water, you know.

[01:04:49] Tara Bushnoe Wonderful. Well, thank you all again for your attendance and participation and. And the Texas Water Symposium is brought to you in partnership by Texas Public Radio, Schreiner University and Hill Country Alliance. And thank you again and good night.

Water, essential for life, is our most precious and valuable natural resource, but water supply is limited and under increasing pressure from a growing population. How will we protect this resource and plan for a sustainable future? There is a great need for a water-literate public; decisions being made today have far reaching and long lasting effects for our children and future generations.