Scorching summer temperatures make me feel as if I’m 2 degrees away from withering up, much like what happened to my once lush green lawn. Since I take water conservation seriously, my grass is on its own. I have other things to worry about.
On the other hand, it’s Ricardo Chapa’s job to think about vegetation, soil and water every day. Chapa is the manager for the Harlingen Regional office of the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.
The board is the state agency that administers the state’s soil and water conservation laws and coordinates the planning and management of conservation and nonpoint source water pollution prevention and abatement programs. “Nonpoint source” refers to rainwater moving over and through the ground, picking up and carrying natural and man-made pollutants into water sources. The conservation board also offers technical assistance for the state’s 216 Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Just as the Dust Bowl was winding down in 1939, the Texas Legislation created the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. The panhandle of Texas was caught in the heart of the Dust Bowl, and most of the northern half of the state suffered damage. In 1934, during what is considered one of the worst drought years on record, Congress declared soil erosion “a national menace.” According to the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board Website, www.tsswcb.texas.gov, water has become the most limiting natural resource in Texas. The state’s economy and continued growth depend on the availability of water now and for the future.
The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board maintains six regional offices and is governed by a seven-member State Board. The Harlingen office covers a 21-county area in the Southernmost tip of Texas and is staffed by Chapa; Fidencio Mesa, planner; Ronnie Ramirez, conservation planner 1; and Laura Gonzalez, administrative assistant.
“Our conservation story is a success story,” Chapa said. “Doing conservation practices 100 percent guarantees it will enhance the project. It will enhance water quality and reduce erosion – either soil or wind erosion.”
The kind of technical assistance and advice the soil and water conservation board offers to ag producers, include brush management, grass and range planting, water troughs, livestock pipelines, irrigation pipeline, cross fencing, wildlife management and ground leveling.
The conservation board works closely with Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Districts and assists with financial and program matters, and administers grants.
“We help everyone who walks in the door,” Chapa said. “We work for the state. We work for the tax payer.”
Chapa said individualized water quality management plans are developed for each land owner to ensure every dollar spent is optimized and the project outcome will be successful. For instance, if an ag producer requests a pipeline, the land must be level, Chapa said. Land owners can apply to be reimbursed for the cost of leveling and for incorporating conservation practices.
These cost share projects are effective, Chapa said.
“When ag producers follow their management plan, it works,” Chapa said.
Brush management also improves water quality and quantity, Chapa said, adding brush takes up a lot of water. Cattle producers remove brush and replant with grass for grazing. Grass purifies water, takes in some nutrients, keeping them from running off into the Laguna Madre. Since grass can’t grow under a canopy, some people clear in strips to leave brush for wildlife. The soil and water conservation board partners with the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the U.S.D.A. and follows the national practice standards for range and pasture land, Chapa said.
The conservation board recently participated in a program to enhance and restore habitats for the Monarch Butterfly and is involved in the Rio Grande Carrizo Cane Eradication Program.
While the conservation board is celebrating its 75th anniversary, the agency has kept up with technology. Satellite equipment mounted on a utility vehicle is used to perform land surveys, replacing stakes from years past. This is an example of precision ag, such as moisture meters, Chapa said.
Editor’s Note: This column is part of an occasional series on water issues by Nora N. Garza, customer service coordinator for North Alamo Water Supply Corporation. Garza says that in the U.S., citizens seldom give water much thought after they turn off the tap or the shower. In her series, Garza navigates the myriad of agencies and organizations that regulate, protect and preserve our water sources.