Our Water Matters – The Big Bend Sentinel

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The Presidio County Groundwater Conservation District has stepped up efforts to monitoring groundwater levels for several years now. With generous grants from the Dixon Water Foundation, the United States Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Applied Science Program, the Environmental Defense Fund and others, the district was able to install water level monitoring equipment in eight wells around the county (compared to zero wells just a few years ago). It was a tough climb. Staff turnover, the pandemic and the challenge of finding landowners have made extremely difficult progress. But in recent months, these efforts have received a well-deserved boost with the hiring of a new data scientist: Dr Kevin Urbanczyk, professor of geology at Sul Ross State University.

Urbanczyk has taught at Sul Ross since 1991, where his research focuses on the hydrology and geology of far western Texas. According to Urbanczyk, when he began his teaching career, “My main area of ​​interest was the geochemistry of volcanic rocks. But I soon realized that there was no faculty at Sul Ross that focused on water issues, so I decided to try to fill that gap. In addition to his scientific expertise in maintaining groundwater and atmospheric monitoring instruments in the Big Bend area, Urbanczyk also includes policy development through the experience he gained as a member. of the Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District Board of Trustees since 2015.

Of the many exciting projects he has worked on, Urbanczyk said his favorite research location is “the lower canyons of the Rio Grande. Visiting this remote region usually requires a week-long canoe trip. I take a lot of scientific equipment and measure stream flow and water quality, do topographical surveys, and study/monitor the general condition of a sequence of springs that flow into the Rio Grande. He also recently “discovered” a sequence of aerial photos taken in 1947 along the Rio Grande in the Canyon area of ​​Colorado (in what is now Big Bend Ranch State Park) by the International Boundary and Water Commission , “presumably to consider the construction of a dam in this region. I was able to process them into a single image in a GIS, and now I can use it to observe and demonstrate the changes that have occurred in the Rio Grande at the past 70 years. It serves as a time machine to see what the river was like.

Urbanczyk is currently working to update and resolve issues with the district database. This involves site visits to the various wells in the county with the district general manager and working with the district’s software consultants and monitoring equipment vendors to ensure a smooth and continuous flow of data. Among the challenges facing the district’s monitoring efforts, Urbanczyk said, “Money is always an issue because groundwater monitoring can be expensive. But the biggest problem is the lack of access to monitor wells that are not pumped AND that are strategically placed in key areas of the county. To that end, the district will use Urbanczyk’s expertise to locate new monitoring sites that will be funded through the district’s affiliation with the USGS National Groundwater Monitoring Network and funding from the fund. State Renewable Drinking Water from the Texas Water Development Board. These wells will primarily be located near major population centers as well as in specific areas of interest around the county.

The district has also identified about 30 wells that have been monitored in the past by the Texas Water Development Board or the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and could be equipped with new monitoring systems. The historical data already available from these wells, as well as newly acquired data, could help the district generate a more complete picture of aquifer levels over time and potentially provide a better understanding of the “gradual impacts of climate change”. climate change on groundwater recharge,” according to Urbanczyk.

In a region that depends almost exclusively on groundwater, Urbanczyk believes that “we need to know the state of our main source of water. We need to know if groundwater production…leads to significant reductions in water levels. If so, “we would hopefully have time to develop strategies to secure a water supply for the future.”

Trey Gerfers is a native of San Antonio and is the General Manager of the Presidio County Groundwater Conservation District. He also works as a translator of technical documents from German into English for the German and Swiss pharmaceutical and medical industry. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]


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