It takes much more than a village to save a river, a case in point being the beautiful and beloved Pedernales River in the Texas Hill Country.
Named after the Spanish word for the distinctive caramel-colored flint found along its banks, the "Perd 'n Alice" gained national recognition in the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who owned a ranch on the river that is now a national historic park.
Long before then, the river had been known for the beauty of its crystalline waters and the sculpted contours of its bedrock streambed. Since its creation in 1971, the 5,200-acre Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City has been a magnet for visitors.
The river rises from springs in Kimble County and flows through the park along its 105-mile course to the Colorado River at Lake Travis near Austin. Along the way, the Pedernales is sustained by springs, seeps and tributary streams that foster a wide diversity of native aquatic and wildlife communities. Unfortunately, the river — and the life it sustains—has become increasingly subject to manmade stresses.
In order to protect this important Texas resource, The Nature Conservancy and partners launched the Pedernales River Project in 2007. Much of the focus of the far-reaching and long-range project is on preserving the quantity and quality of the river's flow, as well as the aqua vitae for the diverse habitats and wildlife communities in the watershed.
The major aquatic concerns include pollution, unsustainable surface and groundwater withdrawal, loss of plant and animal diversity and dramatically altered fire regimes, but also involve more specific threats like invasive plants and overpopulation of native and exotic deer.
In a significant example of partnership for the Pedernales River Project, Conservancy scientists worked in concert with the River Systems Institute at Texas State University in San Marcos to compile a comprehensive data base regarding the water quality, river flow, habitat conditions and the status of wildlife and aquatic species in the watershed.
Partners in the project include local, county, state and federal agencies, other conservation organizations and many interested landowners.
The Conservancy's efforts, for example, also include extensive landowner outreach through the distribution of riparian management manuals and the hosting of field days and workshops to share best practices of land and water stewardship.
All it takes is a visit to Pedernales River State Park to appreciate what's at stake and to understand why so many folks have joined the effort to save the river and its far-flung watershed.
To learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work in Texas, including other freshwater protection projects, visit nature.org/texas.