Recent dust-ups in the western part of the county have centered on the use of our canyons and intermittent streams as sewer pipes for “treated effluent.” Remarkable grass roots activism kept that from happening. So far. Unfortunately, the resulting compromises still permit mining our aquifers for recreational use.
Why all the fuss? There are many stream beds, tributaries, canyons, springs and sinkholes along the Sabinal and Medina. That’s exactly the point. Our canyons, their intermittent streams and the karst beneath them make a fragile whole that needs all its working parts to be in good order.
Most of us understand what scientists call the hydrologic cycle. Water evaporates from the Gulf and the oceans. Wind and pressure move it around. Some of it gathers over the Edwards Plateau and it rains.
Some flows quickly over the Balcones Escarpment into our canyons. Some leaks through breaks in the Plateau, and some of that shows up fairly soon and not too far away in our springs. The rest finds its way much deeper and moves slowly, perhaps for thousands of years. As the water on the surface moves it changes direction, velocity and volume continuously. It meanders, creating cut banks, point bars, pour offs and undercuts. It carries sediment: from boulders and Cypress logs to fine clay and Sycamore leaves. As the sediment spreads and rests it supports a lush plant community that cleans and stores the water.
Besides sediment, the water carries a chemical stew of dissolved solids and gasses. For many fish, in vertebrates and plants that stew has to be within a fairly narrow range or “conductivity” for life to continue.
Eventually the Medina and Sabinal make their way to the San Antonio and Nueces River corridors, to the Whooping Cranes and Laguna Madre. Like American Democracy over the past two hundred and fifty years, our riparian corridors have endured floods, droughts and the calmer times in between. They survived, recovered and enabled life to continue in abundance.
Lies, delusions and voter suppression may yet do to American democracy what human waste and water mines are doing to the Hill Country.
Tom Denyer has resided in Bandera County since 1979. Among other jobs, he has worked as an oil tools machinist, cook and union organizer.