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Pecos River Watershed Protection Plan readies for third round of public review

A revised draft of the proposed Pecos River Watershed Protection Plan should be ready for a third round of public review and comment by the end of the month.

Will Hatler, who is coordinating the plan’s development, said revisions are being made based on feedback received at public meetings in five locations in February and during an online comment period that ended on March 10.

Hatler, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service ecosystem science and management assistant at Stephenville, said the plan’s objective is to get landowners involved in efforts to maintain or improve the Pecos River in Texas.

Hatler said the third draft of the document, which will also be submitted to the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, will be available at the end of March at or from Choyia Holley at 254-968-4144, [email protected] Comments will be accepted on the website or by mail through April 30.

Landowner involvement is the lifeblood of the planning effort, Hatler said, noting that public meetings on the plan in Pecos, Imperial, Iraan, Ozona and Del Rio were well attended.

The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board provided the grant funds for AgriLife Extension to facilitate this process, according to Hatler.

Hatler said once the plan is complete, the focus will be on seeking the funding to implement the highest priority management practices outlined in the plan. Two of these, saltcedar spraying and debris burning, have already been submitted to the board for funding consideration.

“And probably most importantly, we will continue to communicate with landowners and keep them updated on project activities and developments,” he said.

Two of those landowners are Larry Drgac, a property owner near Girvin, and Mike Turk, a Terrell County ranch owner.

“I think the protection plan is going good right now,” Drgac said. “The people who were against it are in favor of it now. Convincing them that this wasn’t a government agency trying to come in and run roughshod over everything and take control of their property was the main thing that turned the tide in favor of the project.”

Drgac said initial saltcedar spraying which prompted the river clean-up plan is already having a positive effect.

“The river is up and our livestock are drinking river water now which they have never done before,” he said. “We’re 6 or 8 miles below Girvin, which was some of the raunchiest part of the river because of the salt in the water. The river flow is up about 8 inches, I say, because of the saltcedar spraying. People say it’s because we had 20 inches of rain last year and maybe that was it, and I tell them no, it was up when we had only 4 inches of rain the year before. And plus, the year we had 4 inches is when the livestock started drinking the river water.

“So it’s not only going to benefit the livestock, but it’s going to benefit the wildlife. That’s what’s going to benefit the most off of this project.”

Turk feels that all concerned must never forget that the main purpose of the plan is to control the salinity in the Pecos River and increase its flow.

“Both of these issues must be addressed at the source of the water flowing into the river or we’ll never see a significant improvement of the water quality,” Turk said.

“We plan to participate on a small scale,” he said. “We do not adjoin the Pecos River, and our ranch is under a game management program with no livestock at the present time. The practices I see we could do on our ranch that might result in increased spring flows into the lower Pecos would be some brush sculpting and possibly catchment ponds with direct injection into the fresh water aquifers if that method is approved and selected.

“We have seen much improvement from the first draft of the plan,” he said. “Since September of 2007 forward, landowners have been made more aware of meeting dates and changes in the plan.”

Hatler said he was pleased with the turnout at the comment meetings and he appreciated the input given.

“Folks were appreciative of the fact that the changes they had requested during the first comment period were included in the second draft of the document,” Hatler said. “We’re looking forward to incorporating the additional comments we received, and in continuing to take this effort in the direction the landowners lead us.”

The Pecos River watershed drains all or part of Andrews, Brewster, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, Ector, Jeff Davis, Loving, Pecos, Presidio, Reagan, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Val Verde, Ward and Winkler counties.

Collaborators on the project include landowners, AgriLife Extension, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Texas AgriLife Research, Texas Water Resources Institute and the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission.

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