Don’t blow it: Unregulated wind farms encroach on pristine Texas wilderness

The Devils River Conservancy, is spearheading the “Don’t Blow It” campaign to advocate for thoughtful regulation of wind energy development — an industry quickly expanding in rural Texas, largely without rules and with serious negative implications for Texans. While the campaign is in full support of renewable energy solutions, “Don’t Blow It” by placing renewable energy in locations that negatively impact ecologically and culturally sensitive and pristine areas, military operations and border security, as well as the communities that depend on these assets.

The statewide initiative illustrates the environmental, economic and cultural implications wind farms pose in Val Verde County and demonstrates the need for development by design to protect what is left of “Wild Texas”.
Val Verde County lies at the crossroads of three distinct ecological regions: the Chihuahuan Desert, the Tamaulipan Brushlands and the Edwards Plateau. It is home to many historical and natural treasures including its clear springs, vast unadulterated vistas and the last wild and pristine river in Texas, the Devils River. More than 1 million tourists visit Val Verde County state and federal parks each year, seeking a retreat from the urban jungle. Recently, Val Verde County has come under threat, attracting the attention of foreign industrialists who have acquired over 140,000 acres of undeveloped ranch land with the intention of expanding wind farms. Such development in this region will forever scar the iconic terrains, threaten the value of ecotourism, encroach upon military training grounds, degrade private property values and decimate one of the last vestiges of our “Wild Texas” heritage. “Don’t Blow It” by industrializing Wild Texas with wind farm developments Energy purchased from wildscapes is not as “green” as that procured from less sensitive areas. Wind farms are substantial industrial developments, generating relatively small amounts of energy compared to the “sprawl” they require. They negatively impact the environment by disrupting groundwater flows, obstructing migratory flight paths, causing erosion and degrading water quality. Additional negative effects include noise pollution and visual pollution (including red lights that pierce the area’s famous night skies) — all standard byproducts of industrialization.
“Protecting the biological health and integrity of the lower Pecos and Devils River watersheds, as well as conserving the area’s wide-open spaces and dark skies, are fundamental to our work there, now and to come,” said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Park and Wildlife Department. “Proposals to further intensively develop the area surrounding the Devils River run counter to many of the values that ranchers and conservationists, biologists and outdoor enthusiasts alike have labored long and hard to protect.”

“Don’t Blow It” by threatening military operations and border security.

Wind farm encroachment in Val Verde County compromises Air Force pilot training and US border operations. In addition to environmental impacts, wind turbines in Val Verde County can affect our state’s economy by compromising homeland security operations and interfering with military aviation radar and flight training routes. Located in Del Rio, Texas, Laughlin Air Force Base has the largest pilot training program in the U.S. and is critical to Val Verde County’s economic structure and success. Laughlin employs 24 percent of the county’s population, jobs that would be adversely affected if the base and its training program are compromised by airspace obstructions. According to the Texas Military Value Task Force 2018 Strategic Report, Laughlin is a vital part of the U.S. military, contributing $1.5 billion to the Texas economy. The state’s report also discourages development such as wind farms in close proximity to military operations.

“Wind farms in Val Verde County pose an attendant threat to military training airspace, border security operations and public parklands,” said Skip Baker, president of the Military Affairs Association. “Responsible consideration of location must be considered in renewable energy development. Wind turbines create airspace hazards and compromise air traffic safety for Laughlin Air Force pilots at the largest training program in the U.S. by interfering with radio signals, potentially reducing their number of effective training days.”

“Don’t Blow It” by sprawling into our last few iconic horizons.

Val Verde County is a culturally rich region and home to over 2,000 archaeological sites. Shumla Archeological Research & Education Center, a global leader in rock art research and education, has joined the DRC in opposing and objecting to wind farm industrialization in and around Val Verde County. Hundreds of complex multi-colored art murals are located in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands and Devils River Basin. These ancient spiritual expressions date as far back as 4,000 BP and are already threatened by vandalism, flooding and weathering; wind farms will cause further harm to these historical deposits.

“Wind farms are substantial industrial developments that require significant clearing, blasting and leveling to create turbine pads, access roads and powerlines,” said Emil Zuberbueler, president of the board of directors of Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. “Wind farm industrialization in Val Verde County contributes to the degradation and destruction of the region’s unique and priceless archaeological and rock art sites.”

The DRC believes wind farms should be located in industrialized areas which have already been altered to such an extent that they have limited wilderness value remaining. Ultimately, destroying one environment for the sake of saving another makes no sense at all.

To find out how you can help protect the unique natural and scenic treasures in Val Verde County from wind farm encroachment visit, www.dontblowittexas.org. To learn more about the Devils River Conservancy visit, www.devilsriverconservancy.org.

National Geographic Highlights Texas' Rivers

What would happen if our rivers stopped flowing? Conservation groups in Texas are rallying together to ensure the future of fresh water for the economy, wildlife, and human enjoyment. National Wildlife Federation’s Myron Hess lays out the need for this type of coalition as he canoes down one of the state’s scenic rivers. With each oar stroke, Hess makes the case for the importance of preserving healthy ecosystems through clean water and the support of the Texas Living Waters Project.
 

Road Building Workshop a Success

The Devils River Conservancy Road Building & Drainage Workshop was a huge success! Thank you to all who joined us in learning about the benefits of road drainage features and how to implement them on various road types.#agoodroadlieseasyontheland 
Thanks to Steve Carson of Rangeland Hands Inc. for coming down from Santa Fen NM to lead the conversation.

BIG Thanks also to #DevilsAdvocates Sky Jones LeweyJoe Joplin,Minda Pfeil and Sarah Robertson for aiding the behind the scenes logistics of the workshop and ensuring a successful event!

Looking to take part in our upcoming events and education? Become a Devils Advocate today! 

22713601_1566432196755775_2684570182407346566_o.jpg
22713307_1566438103421851_6525898005195309071_o.jpg

Study Links Groundwater and Surface Water in Devils River Basin

Models indicate strong linkage of Devils River outflow with Edwards-Trinity Aquifer groundwater levels

http://www.devilsriverconservancy.org/research/

Austin — September 18, 2017 — A study sponsored by Devils River Conservancy provides detailed models linking groundwater in a Texas aquifer to the surface flows in one of the state’s most pristine rivers. The study shows how karstic pathways of the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer follow the same channels as the Devils River watershed, creating natural springs that sustain the river.

“Natural springs play the major role in sustaining flows in rivers located in a semi-arid climate that experiences extended dry periods,” said Dr. Green, lead hydrologist on the project. “This study clearly illustrates the linkage of groundwater flow with surface-water flow in the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer located within the Devils River watershed.”

The headwaters to the Devils River are located in Crockett, Schleicher and Sutton counties, semi-arid landscapes with limited development. The Devils River runs 93 miles southwest into Val Verde County and Lake Amistad near the border with Mexico in southwest Texas. As a key tributary of the Rio Grande, the river provides essential freshwater flows to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.

The research team replicated hydraulics in the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer by coupling computer models of surface water and groundwater. The models were conceptualized and developed with a broad range of data sets, including precipitation, run-off, surface-water flow, and water extraction records. The models show, for the first time, the strong interaction between pumping groundwater and spring discharge in the river channels.

Groundwater pumping in the upper watershed is limited to domestic livestock, a few irrigation wells, and the city of Sonora. Combined, those activities account for 3,000 to 7,000 acre-feet of annual pumping, starting in the 1960s. However, the water budget of the watershed is not well constrained due to unmetered wells and unreported pumping, according to the study.

Computer models were developed to test variable precipitation and recharge in the presence of different pumping scenarios and to simulate their effects on spring discharge in the upper portion of the river. The shifting of the headwaters downstream could be explained, Green said, by diminished spring discharge associated with the onset of pumping in the 1960s. The models indicate that this pumping led to “dewatering” Beaver Lake, a former perennial lake that is about 10 miles upstream from the current headwaters located at Pecan or Hudspeth Springs. Results from the study indicate that limited extraction of groundwater can impact a river in a semi-arid climate.

“The DRC is an honest broker in the long term protection of the Devils River,” said David Honeycutt, DRC founder. “The science produced from this model illustrates that there has been significant historical drawdown on the flows of The Devils River and that any commercial harvesting of groundwater for exportation in northern Val Verde County will have an adverse effect on the necessary environmental flows to maintain the unique fauna of this special and threatened river. This model allows us to prove that fact.”

“This study provides, for the first time, the means to evaluate the relationship between groundwater pumping and spring discharge in the semi-arid environment encountered in the Edwards Plateau,” said Green. “These tools allow for water managers to evaluate water-resource strategies when administering the stewardship of this valuable resource.”

Working Days I - 2016

Project Overview

The Devils River Conservancy, with support from private donors, organized the Devils River Working Days project to engage landowners in evaluating aquatic invasive species populations, water quality in relation to suspended solids and sediment distribution and recreational impacts. The intention of this project was to engage landowners and stakeholders in observing and addressing challenges to the shared resource.

Summary

Observations and Suggestions

  • Water Clarity- There is an There is an abundance of fine sediment suspended in the Devils River and many theories as to why; recent rain events along with bank disturbances, invasive fish activity, water temperature, lack of a large flood event, or a morphological-gradient change. From the top of the river to Blue Sage we only experienced the blue water that the Devils is known for once and that was in a spring branch of the river known as Blue Hole. Observations indicate that more study is needed to understand the sediment transport and distribution processes in the Devils River.

    • Recreation Impacts- It is clear that recreational impacts increase dramatically below the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Del Norte State Natural Area. In effort to address the ever growing recreational interest in the Devils River the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is developing projects to consolidate and minimize recreational impacts along the river. Annual assessmentsof recreational impacts may be helpful in monitoring the success of these projects.

    • Aquatic Invasive Species- Due to water clarity issues during the project we were unable to fully evaluate the reach and damage of the aquatic invasive species in the Devils River. A different means of assessment such as targeted electroshock would be beneficial in determining the population density and reach.

    • Landowner Engagement- The Devils River Working Days project was successful in uniting landowners around the shared resource, identify its challenges and working together to develop solutions. We had eleven landowners participate in the Working Days project and approximately twenty landowners attend the community gathering event.