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Government/Politics

Tough As It Might Be, The Post Flood Clean Up Might Mean Ignoring The Debris

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Ryan E. Poppe
Blanco River, post-2015 Memorial Day Floods

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
The Blanco River in Wimberley

The sound of chainsaws cutting through driftwood or downed trees is commonplace these days along the Blanco River. In May, raging floodwaters lifted homes off their foundations and ripped 50-year old cypress trees out of the ground.  

Linda Moore had about four feet of water in her home and lost nearly lost everything in the flood. “A lot of the trees are down, almost all the trees down by the river are down. My rainwater collection tank floated a little bit. Both my cars were filled with water and totaled,” Moore elaborated.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe

A lot of landowners just want to clean up the mess they find on their properties.

But Jim Rooney, with the Texas Forest Service, said that if landowners leave flood debris undisturbed, they would create a natural barrier to combat the next big flood.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Jim Rooney, Texas Forest Service

“Leave it be, let it rest. Mother Nature again has a very unprecedented knack of being able to recover itself. And one of the things that came as a surprise for many landowners when the recommendations came out, was, a big part of them was, ‘Take a breath and stand back.’ And I will reiterate that today. Take a breath, stand back, take a look at the resources and evaluate and be thoughtful about every step and what its consequence might be. Not only to your pocketbook but also to the recovery of the river,” Rooney instructed.

Rooney recently spoke to more than 100 Wimberely homeowners at the town’s community center. Their yards are still littered with downed trees. The workshop was sponsored by the Nature Conservancy.

While some gathered grumbled that damming the river is what was now needed to prevent future floods, Bill Neinman suggested one way to tackle the future might be to plant the right vegetation along the riverbanks. Neiman owns the Native American Seed Bank in Junction. He told those gathered that riverfront lawns with pristine St. Augustine grass could expect more flooding because of what’s happening below the surface.

“All plants are not equal. And in a riparian setting along the river’s edges, we need to be looking at the stability rating of the plant. And yes, deep-rooted fibrous roots are going to hold soil, hold the land together,” explained Neiman.

Neiman said most native Texas grasses have deeper root systems that prevent soil erosion during flooding, which is something damming the river wouldn’t do.

Rachel Rant, with the Nature Conservancy, said completely changing the layout of a property by leaving debris and replanting it with native grasses could be a difficult thing for some homeowners.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Rachel Rant, The Nature Conservancy

“It’s like losing a family member to be out here. We all loved the Blanco, we all loved the beauty of this river, and to have this constant reminder of all these downed cypress trees and these broken trees and piles of debris, it opens those wounds every day. I think it’s really hard for us to not want a clean plate and to just start over,” said Rant.

Linda Moore still lives along the Blanco, which is now flowing quietly within its banks. But last month’s flooding got her attention. And as she began to clean up, the conservationists got her attention too. “I’ve been really aggressively not mowing my portion of that down to the river. I advocate pathways down to the river and small access areas. We all want to go swimming; I mean it’s the river. But I am very much in favor of letting it be,” Moore confirmed.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Debris along landowners' section of the river.

Moore said she’s now sold on the idea of leaving debris on her river property and replanting the native grasses.  She hopes her neighbors will do the same.