OOS 1-2 - Community engagement at the Jacob's Well Natural Area

Monday, August 8, 2011: 1:50 PM
16B, Austin Convention Center
David Baker, Wimberley Valley Watershed Association

Community involvement and advocacy is critical for protecting valuable natural resources, because volunteers and citizen scientists greatly expand the capacity of research institutions and nonprofit organizations.  Jacob’s Well spring, located near Wimberley in western Hays County, Texas, is an artesian spring that has historically provided the majority of baseflow to the Cypress Creek, and is a symbol for the community of its connection to the Hill Country karst environment and aquifers that are the lifeblood of the area.

Over the last 15 years, the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) has promoted volunteerism and citizen science for research and preservation of Jacob’s Well spring. The WVWA has succeeded in assembling over 120 properties and permanently protecting 261 acres in the watershed surrounding Jacob’s Well spring, and has greatly increased the capacity of scientists and managers to understand the physical system that keeps it flowing.  WVWA has grown steadily with current programs including on-going scientific studies, training docents to lead weekend tours of the site, a monthly speaker series, on-site elementary education programs, water quality monitoring, managing an eco-retreat center and land restoration.  The WVWA has developed partnerships with universities and government agencies for research into aquifers, watersheds and water quality in the Wimberley Valley and Texas Hill Country.  However there are also challenges mobilizing and managing citizen science efforts, litigation, fundraising, policy development, communications and volunteer board development.


The key to our success has been harnessing the community’s passion for the mission to protect water quality and quantity in the Creek, River and Aquifer.  The relationships that have been built around protecting the two iconic sites of Blue Hole Regional Park and Jacob's Well spring have proven to be important touchstones for the public at large.  The excellent advance in scientific research due to partnerships and citizen science have provided a context to educate the community about the growing threats to the health of our watersheds and aquifer due to unchecked urban sprawl.  The most important factor in our success has been the persistence to remain engaged with the community in an on-going dialogue about the connection between land and water stewardship through education, research and personal experiences.  The community goal of advocating for clean, clear and flowing streams and a balanced allocation of water has become a widely held and supported goal for a majority of our citizens.

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