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River Systems Institute undertakes Cypress Creek study

By Marc Speir
University News Service
May 21, 2008

The River Systems Institute at Texas State University-San Marcos is in the process of coordinating a major study on the Cypress Creek watershed in and around Wimberley.

A three-year grant amounting to $360,000 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and numerous community partners will fund the research designed to sustain the health of the creek.

The creek, which ultimately flows into the Blanco River and serves as a significant recharge zone for the Trinity Aquifer, is undergoing change due to rapid land development for commercial and residential uses.

Andy Sansom, director of the Rivers Systems Institute, said the organization provides a strong and sensible approach to the research.

“Everything is based on hard science and designed to get broad input from all stakeholders,” Sansom said.

Sansom compared the importance of Cypress Creek to Wimberley area residents to that of the San Marcos River and its value to the students and citizens of San Marcos.

“It’s a defining part of the community,” Sansom said. “With sites like Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole, it’s incredibly beautiful. We’re also really excited and invested in it because Cypress Creek is in our neighborhood.”

Faculty from the Department of Geography and Department of Biology-Aquatic Resources will manage the project. The Texas Stream Team, an arm of the River Systems Institute comprised of trained volunteers, will assist in compiling research with students and university personnel.

“It’s an opportunity to work with the community as land uses change,” said Jason Pinchback, grant specialist for the Texas Stream Team. “Together, we can coordinate and act to keep the creek alive while also growing the region.”

The multi-phase project seeks to define the current state of the watershed, gather input from community stakeholders and develop a scientific tool chest for local decision-makers.

Vicente Lopes, professor in the Department of Biology, is creating a user-friendly computer interface to archive all data from the project and will train local stakeholders on the use of a decision support system based on a complex set of models.

Pinchback says the public still has the opportunity to actively manage development on the creek and its environmental impact.

“The input from the community is the driving force for this project,” said Pinchback. “We want leaders from counties and conservation groups across Cypress Creek to get involved.”

One of those leaders is Jack Hollon, vice-president of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association and director of the Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. He said spots along Cypress Creek dried up and stopped flowing in 1999 and in the summer of 2000.

“That’s when we knew we needed to look at this more seriously,” said Hollon. “It became vital to measure the amounts we were pumping.”

Hollon also says other concerns need evaluation such as impervious cover, amounts of silt that slow water flows, protecting sections of water with critical recharge zones, limiting chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides from flowing into the creek and measuring numerous other water quality parameters.

“We need a different system to study the water and what is being done to it,” said Hollon. “And we are very excited that the River Systems Institute is going to help make that happen.”

The initial phase of the research is scheduled to end August 2010.

The River Systems Institute wants to hear input from the community concerning the direction of the study. Information on the project and future meetings can be found at www.cypresscreekproject.org.

Co-sponsors of the project include Hays County, Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Village of Wimberley, City of Woodcreek, Texas Water Development Board, Nature Conservancy of Texas and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

The mission of the River Systems Institute is to develop and promote programs and techniques for ensuring sustainable water resources for human needs, ecosystem health and economic development.

For more information, contact Jason Pinchback from the Texas Stream Team at (512) 245-9148 or via email at jp30@txstate.edu.