On a typical day, at least 12 million gallons of water gushes from Las Moras Springs, enough to fill Fort Clark’s million-gallon pool. Fort Clark, a former military outpost in Brackettville, Texas, has become a resort and retirement community. But last year, due to drought across much of the state, the spring’s flow slowed to a trickle and then stopped flowing altogether. For the first time in decades, the third-largest spring-fed pool in Texas is vacant. In 2019, Christina Bitter and her family moved to Brackettville, a town two hours west of San Antonio, in part, she told me, because they “fell in love with the pool,” where they often swim So much so that her daughter “grew into this mermaid”. ’. The first signs of trouble came the following year. Bee had planned to celebrate her daughter’s sixth birthday with a pool party in Fort Clark, but the water levels were too low. Instead, she bought a stocker from a feed store. can, filled it with a hose, and did her best to make her backyard festive. This year, after the spring stopped flowing, the family spent most of the time inside. The summer was hot and the drought was wilting the grass. “You just sit Get into your car, and then you can get into your house. I’m a gardener, but you just give up on keeping things alive,” she said. “The pool is a gathering place. Really the heart of this community. Without it – it’s making people. . . A little grumpy. “
This year, with record temperatures and little relief from rain across Texas, swimming pools are empty again. In July, the community, knowing how important this was to the town’s economy, society and psychology, decided to pump water from the well to fill it. In short, everything is back to normal. Families bask in the sun on the grass; children play in the shallow water. To everyone’s surprise, the population of crayfish multiplied—Bitter speculates that these crayfish escaped refugees from someone’s backyard boil. But slowly, and then quickly, the water began to drain, and there was no replacement for the water in the spring.
When I arrived in late August, the pool was dry again, and the air smelled of a dried-up spring: boiling mud covered with a faint stench of decay. . “As soon as the water starts going down, you can’t see anyone below,” Bit told me. “It’s like a ghost town. I don’t think people want to see it.” A few weeks ago, before the last drop of water evaporated, a group of volunteers built ramps to help ducklings, turtles and frogs escape the steep pool. “Of course, we couldn’t get the fish out,” she said. “Sorry, it stinks.”
Summer in Texas can feel like an endurance test. One enduring source of comfort is the state’s abundance of natural swimming spots, which the author of the travel guide “Texas’ Swimming Holes” says “is as good as Lone Star beer, BBQ, and Willie Nelson’s National Day picnics.” All the same, the very essence of Texas.” However, this summer, many of the places highlighted in the book will not be able to swim. When I told Doug Wierman, a hydrogeologist and former member of the Hayes Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, that I would start a road trip in August through Texas’s dry and dwindling swimming spots , and he whipped up a list of places I could visit: “The main spring in Comal Springs is now dry. Sad to see how it looks like normal. Barton Springs is down to critical levels – about 17 CFS flow [cubic feet per second] Now, it should be more than double that number. Pedernales River – has almost stopped. The Blanco River in Wimberley is very, very low and barely able to maintain the flow. Guadalupe, near the Comfort—it’s dry out there, I understand. “
Texas is in the midst of a population boom as much of the state suffers from a prolonged drought and the hottest temperatures on record. The overwhelmed water table dropped, and springs and rivers began to dry up. Climate change has accelerated this process — as temperatures rise, more water evaporates and less water enters underground aquifers. Spring water no longer reaching the surface is usually a sign that the water table is falling. “It’s a barometer of the health of the aquifer,” said David Baker, executive director of the Watershed Society, a nonprofit whose work includes protecting Jacob’s Well, a 10-minute walk in the Texas Hill Country. A spring an hour from Austin. “I call it the canary in the coal mine. If that starts to go away, that means the rest of the water table is threatened.” Rivers in hilly regions are also mostly fed by springs and require inflow from aquifers to keep flowing .
When water levels drop, local communities suffer. Konkan, a small town on the Frio River, is a favorite riverside getaway for Texans. But for the second August in a row, the Frio is only ankle-deep in places, making river travel nearly impossible. Concan felt empty as I drove through town, with many ice cream parlors and subway rentals closed. In real estate offices, no one wants to talk about drought.
In the Texas Hill Country, tourists flock to swimming spots like Jacob’s Well, drawing visitors from across the state and abroad. In nearby Wimberley, the economic benefits run into tens of millions of dollars a year, according to a 2013 study. “It’s almost like a water pilgrimage to come to this very special place,” Baker told me. “You can’t jump into sixty-eight-degree water without smiling. It changes your whole attitude, especially when it’s over a hundred degrees outside. It’s like a savior. You actually get cold.Jacob’s Well ran dry for the second summer in a row. In the parking lot, I met a family who made the hour-and-a-half drive, and videos online showed people jumping off rock ledges into the deep blue-green pools. A pickup truck arrives driven by a man who just came from Canyon Lake and says the water level is “terrible”. I tell everyone that Jacob’s Well has shrunk to a small moss green puddle. “Okay Well, at least my hotel has a pool,” he said. When I spoke with Baker, he suggested that I visit the Blue Hole, a place ten minutes down the road that has been open this summer. After I hung up, I saw that I Received an email from the City of Wimberley Parks Department: “Blue Hole Regional Park regrets to announce the closure of its popular swimming area for two weeks,” due to low temperatures and water levels.
In hilly areas, Wellman largely attributed the water problems to “too many people.” The population of this fast-growing region is growing dramatically, and it shows no signs of slowing down. “If twice as many people use the same amount of water, sooner or later there will be problems,” Wellman said.
The Watershed Association purchased nearly five hundred acres of land around Jacob’s Well to keep the spring from spreading, but its effects continued to grow. Last year, Aqua Texas, a subsidiary of one of the largest publicly traded water and wastewater companies in the United States, extracted about 90 million gallons more water than it allocated from the aquifer. The company faced a fine of nearly half a million dollars for overpumping. Overloading of aquifers during the drought directly contributed to the spring dry-out, Baker said. But there’s not much the nonprofit or surrounding counties can do. “We have limited resources and a very permissive regulatory environment,” Baker said. “We’re very developer-friendly. We want to see more growth, so there’s not a lot of regulation and restrictions on how we organize growth.” In Arizona, a law requires developers to guarantee a hundred years before building water supply; Texas has no such laws. In some states, such as Oklahoma, water users are subject to “fair use” doctrine, which limits landowners’ use of groundwater. “In Texas, you can still smoke as much as you want, even if it affects your neighbors,” Wellman said. “There are very few states in the United States that still have such conditions.”
Baker has lived near Jacob’s Well for decades. When I asked him if he thought the spring would still be flowing ten years from now, he paused for a long time before finally saying yes. He encouraged more people to install rainwater harvesting systems and to consider water conservation when designing new buildings. However, since there are no regulations mandating these measures, their impact will be limited.
Dry springs have one benefit: they attract attention. “I never thought I’d be the one going to a water commission meeting, but here we are,” Bit said. In Brackettville, she added, residents are pushing to require nearby farms and ranches to install water meters that regularly measure how much water they’re drawing from the aquifer. This November, people in Texas will vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would create a state water fund. But the reckoning is not over. “If we had normal rainfall for a few years, then this fight would be forgotten. We’d just be slowly heading to the point of no return, not getting there as quickly as the current drought is,” Wellman said. “People have a saying about water planning – you don’t want to waste a good drought. Now is a good time for people to be informed.” ❖