The story of the restoration of Selah, Bamberger Ranch is a story about the most pressing issue facing Texans as well as the world - WATER!
Forty years ago I was fortunate to have met and hired Leroy Petri to help me. He was born here in the Hill Country where his German father taught him how to do just about everything necessary on a ranch. Little did I know at the time about the geology of the ranch, about the fact that the entire ranch was straddled by a “perched or local” aquifer that had gone dry. I had no plan back then to use the ranch for education, for what we now call People Ranching. Leroy’s work and advice proved invaluable and most dramatic was the return of seeps, springs and even creeks. There are many of the practices we put into place that are shown in detail in this week’s blog that anyone can do, some without any cost at all – just your own labor!
The workshop begins with Ranch Biologist, Steven Fulton, pointing out specific soils that will hold water. You will need to identify these if you’re going to build a pond or dam for a lake. Notice the rain machine in the back left of the picture that demonstrates the necessity to have good grass cover. Without good grass cover, none of the water projects that follow are possible. Once again, note that all workshops are outside and site specific. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.
Leroy Petri, Ranch Engineer, on the dam at Madrone Lake, explaining dam construction. He has a unique draw down tube that maintains a constant level in the lake. The exception to this is of course during a drought which continues on today. Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.
Here Leroy discusses how to construct and where to use concrete to build a pond. Leroy and my youngest son, Doug, built this in the early 1970’s. It was our first swimming pool! You don’t see it, but the dam is eight foot deep. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
To move around to the various sites we use the Blue Bonnet. Justin Duke drives so that Steven and Leroy can talk and answer questions while on the way to the next site. There are coffee and restroom stops along the way. Photograph taken by J. David.
Here Colleen Gardner leads a discussion about rainwater collection. Colleen Gardner is the Preserve’s Executive Director. Her new home has no water well and all their needs are met through rainwater collection. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
Here Leroy shows off his “Aggie Roof.” A 400 square foot guzzler that collects 220 gallons of water in a one inch rain and delivers it into a 500 gallon concrete storage tank. The guzzler is made of 100 percent recycled materials! Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
The concrete storage tank delivers the water to a watering trough that has a float valve to keep the trough at a constant level. There are big rocks and bare limbs sticking out of the trough for birds to land on. Supplemental water for wildlife is one very good practice for achieving the wildlife exemption. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
Here is another example of Leroy’s ingenuity – a ground guzzler. Notice the depression or grass covered ditch. These ditches come in from both directions and collect water from eight acres. In the right foreground is a black water trough which sends the water a hundred yards to a collection cistern. I’ve seen, in a heavy rain, thousands of gallons collected. The fencing keeps livestock from the immediate area and thus the water cleaner. This all can be built for very little expense. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
It’s not real clear, but coming out from the stones notice a one inch PVC pipe. This comes from a 100 foot French drain and except during drought it delivers a quart every two minutes. This is 7.5 gallons an hour or 180 gallons in a 24 hour period. Enough to support a family! The drain also goes under the road shown in the next picture and into a water trough for wildlife and in our case domestic livestock. How is this possible? Check the next picture. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
Here Leroy is standing in front of the area under which he has installed the French drain. Notice there are no trees or shrubs. This tells you that the area is too damp for them to grow there. Also, notice the grasses, mostly Lindheimer Muly and Bushy Blue Stem. Both are good indicators of water near the surface. I remember when I was involved with this workshop when at the site an older lady, I’d guess 65 or more, commented, “Why this is falling off a log simple. I can’t wait to get home to do it!” Once again, not much expense. The water is potable. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
Here Leroy is showing a very low volume spring where water seeps out of a rock shelf about five foot wide. It doesn’t look like much water until he makes a small clay berm that makes all the seep gather together and is measured just a bit shy of one gallon per minute. That’s 1400 gallons every 24 hours! If you put up storage tanks, you’ll have all the water you need. Leroy shows you how to build a casement around this seep. Another very easy and very low cost way to have water without drilling a well! Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
I read a very interesting and enlightening book, When The Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pierce. You should get it $12.00 at Amazon. From reading this book, my mind wondered if some of that things former civilizations did thousands of years ago might not be something we could do today. Forty years ago there was no water on this ranch. Seven wells drilled 500 foot to o avail – dry holes. Today on Selah’s 5,500 acres there are no functioning water wells. All our water coming from the various practices you’ve witnessed on this blog . . . taking a tip from those people from our past, we initiated a program called “A Plan for the Future – Maximizing Rainfall Retention on Bamberger Ranch.” It calls for 28 miles of stone berms on the slopes of the hills and 12 miles of “Water Pans.” A former Texas Water Board official after hearing my plan said, “David, anything you do to slow down the runoff of water is good.”
Leroy on the slope of the hill showing the stone berms to Water Workshop guests. One said, “This is equivalent to the great Wall of China!” We only have one and a half mile completed, but follow on and witness the results. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
We did use our bulldozer to scrape the 6 to 8 inch deep “pans.” Because the grades were uneven, we constructed stone berms across the pan every 30 foot. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
When we finally got some rain, the pans performed preventing runoff. Photograph taken by J. David.
On the very flat hilltops we dozed this ditch in a great circle. Photograph taken by Susan Sander.
Even though we have good grass cover on the flat hilltops a typical Hill Country rain can drop 2 or 3 inches very quickly. You will have runoff. This “pan” collected 15 inches of water. It held the water until it ever so slowly leaked into our “perched aquifer.” In 48 hours it was all absorbed. Photograph taken by J. David.
Now look at what happens 125 feet below the Water Pans. Here Justin Duke demonstrates our water feature. He has opened a spigot which comes from Leroy’s cased off spring. Forty-eight hours after the rain captured by the pans and berms, one and a half gallon per minute was produced. When our cisterns are full this water shifts to the stone water feature which then waters livestock and wildlife. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.
The next session of our Texas legislature will be dominated by water issues. They will be trying to reconcile water needs of the various stakeholders. This has been debated and studied for years and years to no avail. Now it has become evident to all that water must be shared and conserved. There will be some serious adapting for everyone when these issues are settled. We ranch land owners doing some of the practices you have just witnessed can contribute so very much to the solutions, all the while insuring better and adequate water for ourselves and the natural world.
If you would like to join in helping us to continue our projects, you can send your contribution which is tax deductible to the extent of the law. We are a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation. Please share your year end giving with us. You can send your contributions to: Bamberger Ranch Preserve, 2341 Blue Ridge Drive, Johnson City, TX 78636.