Going, Going, Gone: The impact of land fragmentation
on Texas agriculture and wildlife
In many Texas counties, particularly those of the much-coveted Hill Country, fragmentation of land is creating or worsening problems with water supplies - both in quantity and quality.
Like most of Texas, those counties have survived one drought cycle after another over the centuries, and they managed just fine. However, as more homes are built and more wells drilled, water becomes increasingly scarce. It's a simple matter of supply and demand: The more straws you have in the ground, the quicker the water disappears. An aquifer that was more than adequate to serve a single rancher and his 1,000 acres of land is often not up to the task of meeting the daily needs of the 100 or more families that might soon inhabit the property.
Because of the strong connection between surface and groundwater, particularly in the Edwards Plateau region, the draw down of an aquifer by continued development can decrease the water flow in streams and rivers. Wildlife, rural land values and tourism-all closely tied to the presence of water in the Hill Country-- will likely suffer if water flow in rivers and streams is diminished over time.
As human populations grow, pollution of the water table can also be a serious concern, especially in areas with shallow aquifers that recharge quickly, hydrologists say.On the large ranches of old, pollution was of little concern. Traditional cattle operations created few inputs to the land, and those that were produced were usually organic and easily absorbed.
Humans are much tougher on the land. Their homes and the roads to reach them reduce the amount of land available to absorb precious rainfall. Furthermore, those roads and driveways become collection points for oil, gasoline and other automotive fluids that can eventually be washed into the aquifer. Perhaps the most underestimated threat to the water supply, however, is the acres and acres of lawn that many new owners plant. Those thirsty green yards require lots of fertilizer, a good deal of which can find its way into the groundwater, contaminating it for years to come.
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