intertwined. The science is clear: If the aquifers decline, they take the springs, seeps, streams, rivers, and lakes with them. “By continuing to increase our use of groundwater, we cut off the lifeblood of the Hill Country,” says Laura Marbury, a water policy specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund of Texas. “We’re trading off increased development for the flow of the creeks and rivers out there. And payback will be harsh.” acob’s Well is tucked in an out-of-the-way cor ner of a semideveloped subdivision near the Hill Country burg of Wimberley, a one-time backwater of cedar-choppers and hardscrabble ranchers that’s now giving way to suburbanization. No signs mark its location. I attended Wimberley High School for four years, visiting Jacob’s Well a handful of times, and still had a hard time finding it. As a sort of omphalos of the region, Jacob’s Well is not so much forgotten as obscured. Its importance is undeniable, though. Locally, the spring provides the bulk of flow for Cypress Creek, an exquisite, bald cypress-lined stream that forms Blue Hole, one of the state’s top swimming holes. It was saved from residential development by the village of Wimberley and a local philanthropist in 2003. “Jacob’s Well is Cypress Creek,” Baker says. Cypress Creek, in turn, feeds the Blanco Rivera shallow, flash-flood-prone stream with a fluted limestone bottom and majestic white bluffs flanking mostly undeveloped ranch land. During the drought of record in the ’50s, Jacob’s Well kept the Blanco from drying up below Wimberley. The Blanco flows into the San Marcos River, which itself meets the Guadalupe River near Gonzales and rolls down to San Antonio Bay. Conservationists and water experts stress the wondrous interconnectivity of surface and groundwater in Texas, especially in the porous Hill Country. Consider: At certain leaky spots, the upper Blanco disappears underground, slipping into the aquifer via a fault. The river may even follow the fault lines providing flow to Jacob’s Well, which in turn pushes water into Cypress Creek and the Blanco River. Downstream, the Blanco River again “loses” water to the aquifer. Adding to the system’s complexity, some of that Trinity waterabout 64,000 acre-feet per yearmoves underground into the Balcones Fault Zone portion of the Edwards Aquifer, the source of the perennial San Marcos Springs. Those springs are the headwaters of the San Marcos River, a main source for the Guadalupe River in times of drought. Texas water law recognizes very little of this. As a drop of water moves between the ground and the surface, it passes through two different legal spheres. As surface water, it’s owned by the state but perhaps allocated, in the form of a water right, to a rancher, farmer, or city. As groundwater, it’s the property of the landowner. Jacob’s Well confuses this artificial distinction. The spring is not just a headwater; it’s literally a spy hole into the Trinity Aquifer. Divers have mapped the underwater cave over a mile underground, pushing through a series of chambers deep into the limestone Cow Creek formation of the Middle Trinity. “There’s a lot of straws pulling from an aquifer that doesn’t have a lot to give.” Eight have died in the pursuit of the unknown. “Jacob’s Well is the expression of the aquifer on the surface,” Baker says. “What it’s indicating to us is that the whole system is stressed.” Recent research suggests that Jacob’s Well is highly sensitive to pumping, especially in the recharge zone northwest of the springs, an area of small sinkholes \(believed to connect to into residential lots. The main development is called The Ridge at Wimberley Springs. “I think we’ve reached the limit, yet more homes are going in as we speak,” Baker says. ‘And that’s the dilemma.” Since founding the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association in 1996, Baker has been fighting to keep developers from chewing up Jacob’s Well. At the moment, the watershed association is tied up in a lawsuit with a group that wants to build RiverRock, a “residential resort”spa, “lagoon-style” pool, gourmet restauranta few hundred feet from Jacob’s Well. RiverRock wants to build a road through the Jacob’s Well Preserve. Baker hopes to stop the development altogether, claiming that it would pump 15 million gallons per year, which could have a direct impact on flows at the springs. Baker is also at loggerheads with Aqua Texas, a for-profit water utility that serves Woodcreek, an incorporated subdivision of 1,500 people just south of Jacob’s Well. Last year, almost half the water Aqua Texas pumped from its main well was wasted because of crumbling infrastructure. Worse, when the company turns on the pumps at that same well, the discharge at Jacob’s Well drops a corresponding amount. In 2005, the watershed group scored a victory by consolidating the four parcels of private land that abut the spring. With a $3 million grant from Hays County, the group is creating the Jacob’s Well Preserve, a 55-acre natural area that eventually will be open to the public. This effort will be for naught if something isn’t done to manage the Trinity. Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in a fast-growing state. In 2000 the population was a little under 100,000; in 2060, its expected to reach 500,000. In the past few years, the county has been the scene of intense squabbles between anti-sprawl activists, drawn largely from the Wimberley area’s large retired population, and pro-growth Add water to the mix. The Trinity Aquifer, which is much less rechargeable than the Edwards, provides the vast majority of groundwater for the area. “There’s a lot of straws pulling from an aquifer that doesn’t have a lot to give,” says Ron MAY 15, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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