Visit These At-Risk Hill Country Water Sources
While you still can
Imagine sitting on the edge of a spring-fed pool with your feet dangling in the ice cold water on a hot summer's day. That vision might become a reality of the past.
Caretakers of San Marcos, Comal, and Jacob's Well springs are struggling to protect sources of the spring-fed streams while allowing the cooling relief to the thousands of Texan toes yearning to be free.
"All of our rivers and streams are spring-fed," says Sharlene Leurig, director of the Texas Environmental Flows Project. "Groundwater is a finite resource."
The primary threat to our springs is the unregulated groundwater pumping, says Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos. "All of our Hill Country springs are at risk."
The current rules of capture allow property owners to pump as much water as they want. River water, on the other hand, is regulated by the state. Without the springs there are no rivers. "We've got to couple our surface and groundwater regulations," Sansom says. "It's the most important natural resource issue we have."
To a degree, recreation is also putting pressure on the water quality. Tread lightly when you visit these springs while you can.
San Marcos Springs
The swimming pigs are gone from San Marcos Springs in San Marcos, but the former Aquarena Springs Resort's glass-bottom boats still ply the waters at the second largest springs in Texas. Visitors can enjoy the spring-fed waters at a series of city parks along the river. The Lions Club rents tubes and provides shuttle services for the hourlong float from City Park to Rio Vista Park.
Overcrowding in the riverfront parks, especially Rio Vista Park, is an issue the city is trying to manage. The Legislature is considering a water recreation district below the city to bring some order to the large number of tubers on the river.
What's nearby: Wonder World Cave & Park, Dick's Classic Garage Museum, Herbert's Taco Hut, and Hays County Bar-B-Que
"The San Marcos and Comal are some of our most protected springs," Leurig says. "Primarily because of the threatened and endangered species they support."
In New Braunfels, the Comal River at 2.5 miles is Texas' shortest river before it joins the Guadalupe River. Comal Springs, the largest springs in Texas, has already gone dry on several occasions.
The springs can be seen in Landa Park and enjoyed at a wading pool and a lake with paddle boats. Hinman Island Park is the primary access point to the spring-fed river for swimmers and tubers.
Parking in the park is extremely limited. River outfitters are your best bet to take the three-to-four hour float trip from Wursthalle to the last exit. For a list of outfitters, go to web.innewbraunfels.com/river-outfitters.
"The city is trying to manage the crowds without being overly restrictive," Leurig says. "It's a tough balancing act."
What's nearby: The original Schlitterbahn Water Park, Gruene Historic District, and the Guadalupe River
Outside of Wimberley, Jacob's Well is the largest underwater cave in Texas and a Hays County natural area.
The flow has stopped during dry periods. There is inadequate regulation of residential wells in the area, Sansom says, so stoppages will become more prevalent.
Visiting the artesian spring is free during daylight hours, but swimming in the 68-degree water is a little more difficult. Swim season runs May 1 through Oct. 1, and swimmers must make a reservation online (www.co.hays.tx.us/jwna.aspx). Swimming at the natural pool is limited to 60 people in two-hour slots.
What's nearby: Wimberley; Blue Hole Regional Park, another legendary swimming hole
For more on Texas’ natural springs, see this “Day Trips & Beyond” post.