Population growth challenges the hills of Texas

Booming population growth, coupled with changing weather patterns, an insatiable thirst for groundwater, and political challenges, leave the Texas Hill Country newly vulnerable.

Driving the news: A recently released report by the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network reveals a region facing profound threats to its future.

  • The network is a partnership of dozens of organizations working across an 18-county region of central Texas to protect waterways, scenic spots and wildlife.

What they say : “The breathtaking vistas, natural spaces, clear waters, abundant wildlife, starry skies and small-town charms of Hill Country should not be taken for granted,” says Katherine Romans, president of the conservation network. . “The choices we collectively make now will determine whether the region and its people survive and thrive, or whether we willfully live beyond the means and carrying capacity of this place we call home.”

What they found: Less than 5% of Hill Country land has been set aside for conservation as ranches are dismantled and turned into sprawling subdivisions.

  • Creeks critical to the region’s recreational economy are besieged by a proliferation of sewage treatment plants.
  • The dark skies, vital to the region’s quality of life, local tourist economies and wildlife, are slowly clearing up.

Between the lines: The Texas legislature, known for its benevolence to the real estate industry, routinely rejects proposals to give county governments more power to regulate land development.

  • Meanwhile, tensions between environmental groups have long raised questions about how aggressively to fight development. Austin’s Save Our Springs alliance, for example, is not a signatory to the network’s resolution calling for collaboration across interests.

Why it matters:What happens in the Hill Country has consequences for Austin.

  • Hill Country groundwater, for example, is the source of Austin’s beloved Barton Springs.
  • And Hill Country land management practices feature in the Austin floods.
  • “A funnel cloud in Driftwood, Texas is pouring rain, and when it flows downstream, it becomes catastrophic for us downstream,” said Carmen Llanes Pulido, Director of Go Austin/Vamos Austin Network Member, referring to record flooding in recent years in southeast Austin.

And after: “The window of opportunity to protect and maintain Hill Country’s natural treasures will likely close within our generation,” said Jennifer Walker, National Wildlife Federation deputy director and network vice president. “Understanding how to balance development and conservation in the service of these goals is key to this sustainability.”