Monday, March 28, 2011

At Issue: On The Water

The following article ran today in the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung  ( ) in a special insert on water issues. I was invited to offer my views from the perspective of a fly-fisher and in my capacity with Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited. 
Clean water is the most precious yet most undervalued natural commodity on earth. Where it exists, so does life; where it is scarce, life is difficult and rare.
We in Texas understand this well, where the saying "whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting" summarizes the sentiments of many where water issues are concerned.
In south Texas near the Edwards aquifer, we live in a region of flood and drought. It isn't uncommon to endure summer months with temperatures breaching the 100 - degree mark with little rain for weeks or even months. Then with the advent of a single tropical weather system we may witness ravaging floods that may dump over 35 inches of rain in a matter of hours, as in the flood of 2002.
Because of our dependence on water for survival, humanity has employed ingenuity to strive for equilibrium in both demand and supply of clean water. While we do not control the weather, we have employed systems to  protect property and people from catastrophic flooding, and store excess rainfall against those inevitable times of drought.
One result of this need to manage water resources in our region led to the construction of  Canyon dam on the Guadalupe River in 1958 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The two main stated purposes of this dam are flood control and water conservation.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials  realized that the dam would displace a historical warm water fishery  immediately downstream of the dam. Outflows from the dam are taken from the bottom of the lake, and water temperatures are too cold for our native fish species to thrive. Biologists sought to replace the loss of the warm water species and the recreational opportunities they provided with another type of fishery. They knew of successes by fishery managers in other southern states from the introduction of trout into the cold tailwaters  (the waters just downstream of a dam).
Armed with that knowledge and the financial assistance of Lone Star Brewery, the first stocking of trout in the Guadalupe tailwaters occurred in the late 1960s. This set in motion the formation of the Guadalupe River chapter of Trout Unlimited (, which has become the largest chapter in the nation, with nearly 4,500 members.
The Guadalupe River holds the distinction of being the southernmost trout fishery in the United Sates, and has gained international acclaim when it was named one of America's top 100 trout streams. The trophy trout zone has been responsible for several television segments over the last few years, and two state records for rainbow trout just this season.
Most of the fishing for trout here occurs in the winter months, supplying critical revenue for  businesses in the New Braunfels area. Trout fishers spend money on hotels, restaurants, grocery and retail stores, auto rentals, fuel, and sporting goods  during what is considered "off season" for river oriented businesses. 
In the forty-odd years since that first stocking of trout in the Guadalupe River, much in our region has changed. Explosive population growth has increased the demand on limited water supplies, and on those charged with management of our water.  
One of those demands is for reasonable and  scientifically based sustained flows of cold, clean water during the hot months of summer. While these flows delight those who enjoy tubing and kayaking on the Guadalupe, they have additional crucial benefits. The immediate benefit is providing the cold water needed for trout to survive the summer. With proper handling of trout when caught, and practicing catch and release of these beautiful fish, the goal of a sustainable year-round trout fishery that we can all enjoy is an achievable reality.
Additionally, sustainable flows supply critical freshwater inflows into the bays and estuaries on our coast which benefit many species of wildlife, including endangered Whooping Cranes.
Through an agreement between the Guadalupe River chapter of Trout Unlimited and  the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, those critical flows are in place providing recreation opportunities and protecting healthy ecosystems for many species of insects, plants, fish, animals and birds all the way to the coast.
Our future is tightly bound to our wise use of water. A balance for all affected parties is achievable with wise science based decisions. Protecting, restoring, and sustaining this unique river does more than provide us with opportunities to enjoy nature. It quite literally protects, restores, and sustains us.
Mark Dillow is the chapter president of Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited (www,

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