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Conservationist David Baker at Jacob’s Well: “The spring has basically stopped flowing.” photo by Jana Birchum SILENT SPRINGS Is it too late to save Hill Country water? by Forrest Wilder Sixty feet below the shimmering surface of Jacob’s Well, an artesian spring that for thousands of years has pulsed iridescent bluegreen water from the Trinity Aquifer to the surface, a sophisticated instrument measures the spring’s vital signs. The results are beamed almost instantaneously to the Internet. These days the gauge detects only the thinnest of pulses. On a hot April afternoon, David Baker, an artist turned conservationist, stands on the limestone lip gazing down into Jacob’s Well. Earlier, Baker had checked the spring flow: an anemic five gallons per second. “At that point, the spring has basically stopped flowing;’ he says. Old-timers recalland spotty historical data confirmthat the spring used to have enough of a head to jet swimmers back to the surface after they cannonballed in. Today the pulse is 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 15, 2009 barely a dying man’s heartbeat. In 2000, Jacob’s Well stopped flowing for the first time in recorded history. Its source sapped, Cypress Creek came to a trickle in Wimberley, and the state added it to a list of streams with impaired water quality. “I think it was a big wake-up call for the community,” Baker says. “If the well is the canary in the coal mine for the aquifer, then the canary was choking and about dead.” The spring ceased flowing again in October 2008. As this story went to press, it appeared Jacob’s Well had gone to zero a third time. The cessations confirm what water experts have been warning: that Jacob’s Well is under immense stress from a development boom over the Trinity Aquifer, the primary source of water for much of the Hill Country. The trouble is hardly limited to Jacob’s Well or the Hill Country. Groundwater scarcity is a looming crisis across Texas. Because of drought, overpumping, and the loss of natural recharge, state water planners estimate that groundwater available for pumping will decrease 22 percent by 2060. The state’s laissez-faire water laws and cumbersome regulatory apparatus have done little to help. Conservationists see bad omens in what’s happening to Jacob’s Well and the Trinity Aquifer. Water is particularly fragile in the Hill Country, designated by the state in 1990 as a priority groundwater management area. In no other region of the state, perhaps, are groundwater and surface water so closely