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Regional Experts Recommend Swift Action to Conserve the Hill Country

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According to a report published last week by regional thought leaders, the need now is greater than ever to ramp up preservation efforts for the Texas Hill Country’s natural landscape.

With the Austin-San Antonio-San Marcos region experiencing an explosion in population and business, suburban sprawl has extended to what used to be rurality in the Hill Country, “threatening its wildlife, scenery, and the water resources upon which the whole region depends,” according to the report.

Titled “Toward a Regional Plan for the Texas Hill Country“, the research for the study was conducted in collaboration between the University of Texas School of Architecture and the Texas Hill Country Alliance, which was formed in 2004 as a means for community support and a need to organize for protection of the region’s natural resources and heritage.

At the conclusion of the research, the experts recommended the following:

  • Establish a Hill Country Endowment to finance land conservation and infrastructure investments.
  • Identify areas most suitable for growth and landscapes most suitable for conservation through suitability mapping and community input.
  • Map desired urban utility boundaries and secure an agreement among local governments to respect those boundaries.
  • Modify current land development policies and practices so that development maintains the scenic, historical and environmental values of the Hill Country.
  • Establish a Hill Country Trinity Water Conservation Area to manage groundwater in the Trinity Aquifer.

The recommendations come on the heels of group discussions back in November, when national and regional experts coalesced to form The Hill Country Planning Studio in an effort to lead discussions over water resource management, wildlife conservation and urban growth management.

“If it were anywhere else in the country, the Texas Hill Country would be a national park,” said Fritz Steiner, dean of UT Austin’s School of Architecture. The National Park Service was put into motion back in 1916 by President Theodore Roosevelt, but much of Texas was excluded from the plan.

The experts concluded that the 17-county region is host to an exceptional number of iconic wildlife features, including its many rivers & streams, historic towns, and abundance of wildflowers.

Image courtesy of University of Texas

Image courtesy of University of Texas

The state’s outdated “Rule of Capture” laws make it all but impossible to conserve the region’s natural water supplies. But the group promises to raise awareness of the issues even though they “…are hamstrung by the absence of effective state, county, and municipal regulations needed to protect the region’s land, water, and ecological resources.”

To solve the issue, the group is recommending what’s being dubbed the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to afford the fund necessary to capitalize general obligation and revenue bonds. The proposed tax would work to close the gap for necessary funding along with utility yes, private donations and property & sales taxes.

“The future of the Hill Country and the Austin-San Antonio corridor are inextricably linked, UT Professor Robert Yaro said. “Unless the water resources and natural systems of the Hill Country are protected, the economic potential and well-being of these big metro areas will be placed at risk.”