Sunday, June 14, 2009

Surviving the Drought

In January 2008 we recognized that “a prolonged period of dry weather, a lack of rain” was ahead of us. Scott Grote, our ranch operations manager, said four pastures were no longer useable as there was no water; even wildlife was suffering in these pastures. It was apparent to us that our education programs and people ranching activities as well as water for those of us who live here was in peril.

Our response was “A Plan for the Future – Maximizing the Use of Rainfall on the Bamberger Ranch Preserve.” The following is excerpted from the plan:

“We know that the Hill Country’s creeks, springs and even rivers do not flow as they did long ago. We know that less than 200 years ago there was much more soil and grass on the hillsides than there is today. It was this healthy, yet fragile, ecosystem that allowed rainfall to percolate into the limestone studded hills giving birth to the seeps, springs, creeks and rivers that draw people to Blanco County and the Hill Country.

Agriculturally, the Hill Country is a non-starter. The hills and rocky terrain make it an expensive place to farm and ranch. Rainfall, though it averages 30 inches per year, is undependable as to when it falls and therefore, recent history shows floods and droughts on a regular basis. Weather temperature patterns, too, have been showing extremes. Yet the beauty of the Hill Country has strong appeal to the urbanites from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas as well as other parts of the United States.

The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the use of the words “global warming” and “climate change.” On a world wide basis these two phrases are widely used and nearly all of the world’s scientists attest to its happening. I believe we are now experiencing its affects here on Selah.

Blanco County is listed as a critical groundwater district, unfortunately for us who live here, Selah Bamberger Ranch is at the very center of the most critical part. Our restoration example is well known and applauded, yet at the same time we are facing a crisis. My idea is to take an inventory of our water sources and to enhance them and to initiate many other creative practices that maximize the use of rain that falls on these 5,500 acres as well as to encourage conservation.

Wall Street and Water

The stock market is said to be out ahead of events – that in our capitalistic economy it’s a predictor of the future. Well, the market is predicting U.S. and worldwide water shortages and old established companies, like General Electric, Dow Chemical, and DuPont, are investing heavily in everything from desalination plants to filter membranes. Foreign companies from Germany, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Singapore, Italy, and Austria are all into water technology with water purification equipment. These companies have built over 13,000 desalination plants around the world, some even in the U.S. San Antonio is currently considering one.

Americans spent 11 billion dollars on bottled water in 2006. In 1987 Americans drank only 5 gallons of bottled water per person. But by 2006, we consumed 27.6 gallons each – about a billion bottles a week! It is said that 40 percent of the countries’ rivers and streams are too polluted for swimming or fishing, let alone for drinking. Among the risks of drinking water are arsenic, gasoline additives, 82 different pharmaceuticals and fertilizer runoff. The nation’s tap water contains at least 10 different pollutants. Water wars are occurring across America, in the courtroom and in combat, pitting neighbor against neighbor. We encountered one such incident while in Brackettville on a snowbell search.

Fortunately for us at Selah, we can eliminate all of the pollutants and enjoy the healthiest water anywhere. We must take the initiatives now to maximize rainfall capture and storage, as well as, to promote and carry out conservation measures.


An aquifer is a body of rock that can store and transmit significant quantities of water. We describe Selah as having a “perched aquifer.” The reality is that this perched aquifer does not hold significant quantities of water and we do not have ownership or control over how it may be tapped into. Geologists would perhaps be generous to say that ours is a secondary aquifer. Nevertheless, our “perched aquifer”, at the present, is the sole source of water for our personal survival and the continuation of our “people ranching” and education programs. While we can’t control how much rain will fall on Selah, we can take steps to increase the amount that stays here.”

Twenty-five Actions to Sustainability

  • Build 1,000 mini dams in every runoff area

  • Add concrete cisterns to achieve 50,000 gallon of storage

  • Rainwater collection on existing buildings

  • Selective tree removal on the watersheds of our springs

  • Construct 12 miles of recharge water pans on our plateaus

  • Construct 28 miles of stone berms on downhill sides of the plateaus

  • Devise a system to transfer water across the divide from west to east

  • Build solar toilets (They do not use water.)

  • Reduce cattle herd

  • Water delivery for wildlife

  • Rainwater only at cattle pens

  • Inspect and repair current spring boxes

  • Explore all canyons for potential seeps to develop

  • Engineer Madrone Lake for potential potable water supply

  • Monitor water production weekly on all cased springs

  • Construct French drains

  • Prescribed burns

  • Add earthen and concrete dams

  • Divert runoff to existing ponds and sinkholes

  • Convert to low flush toilets, low water washing machines and low water shower heads

  • Check old inoperative water wells for potential use

  • Build more recharge ponds

  • Closely monitor native grasslands

  • Riparian improvements

  • Add overflow pipes on all cisterns to pipe overflow water to tanks and ponds

Thousands of stones were picked up to form these berms. There are six berms on the downhill slopes that slow down runoff and intercept soil. Photograph taken by J. David.

Volunteers from the Austin Trail Tamers began the project which calls for 28 miles of berms. One mile has been completed. Photograph taken by Susan Sander.

Twelve miles of these “water pans” are planned. One half mile is completed. These require a bulldozer. They are on the tops of the hill. Cross bars of stone were placed every 30 feet to keep the runoff from flowing to the lowest level. Photograph taken by J. David Bamberger.

The water pans all worked. This water took 48 hours to percolate into the limestone. There was no runoff. Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

One hundred twenty feet below the hilltop water pans and stone berms you can witness the result. Crystal clear and clean water forms this pool for wildlife and livestock. Photograph taken by J. David.

Spigots allow us to measure how much water is produced as well as direct water to our storage tanks. Photograph taken by J. David.

This concrete casement encloses a crack in the stone where water flows out. It prevents cave-ins that might change the water’s path and keeps the water clean. The spigots allow us to measure the volume produced. 48 hours after a 2.1 inch rain, volume from the casement increased a quart per minute. It measured 1 ¼ gallons per minute; that’s 1,800 gallons for a 24 hours. Photograph taken by J. David.

Designated by the pink flags is a forty foot French drain. This collects from a seep and in prolonged dry periods it will dry up, but immediately after a rain it produces a gallon every three minutes. Since this is not potable water, it’s directed into the water feature shown in the previous picture. Photograph taken by J. David.

We built this sluice to carry the overflow water to the earthen pond. Photograph taken by J. David.

This pond is kept fresh and clean by the overflow sluice. The sluice also is an excellent bird waterer as well as an attractive landscape feature. Photograph taken by J. David.

Some of the water pans deliver water to sinkholes which provide instant recharge. Photograph taken by Susan Sander.

This aerial photograph of the project was provided by volunteer aircraft owner and pilot, Jerry Gatlin, and photographer, Chris W. Johnson. Photograph taken by Chris W. Johnson.

Steven Fulton engineered and built with the assistance of Justin Duke this water transfer system. It is solar powered. Since the west side of the ranch is across a divide, any rainwater falling on it drains to the Blanco River. All of our homes and facilities except one are located on the east side of the divide. Photograph taken by J. David.

These two solar powered pumps lift the water 150 feet and then it travels gravity flow 3,000 feet to our “people ranching” cisterns. Photograph taken by J. David.

NOTE – To appreciate this work even more, you may want to look at my blog posting from June 7, 2009. It’s about the drought and clearly demonstrates the need for these actions.

1 comment:

Sallie said...

You are doing some excellent work. I find your blogs very interesting and educational. Keep up the good work!