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Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition

Interview with Char Miller

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

I read one of your recent articles about the relationship national forests have to water conservation. In this region we don’t have national forests, but are there any lessons we can learn from how that agency protects the watershed?

One of the things that’s quite impressive to me about what the Forest Service is trying to do is not so much the techniques that they’re employing to protect watersheds, it’s who they’re working with. It’s a collaborative process that now includes all sorts of public and private agencies and organizations and foundations. The recognition is throughout the West, with the exception of Texas, about 60 percent of all water flows off of national forests. If you’re worried about what that water quantity and quality looks like, then you’ve really got to start thinking about watersheds.  That for me is the new language, the conception of a watershed really needs to frame our politics and our environmental policies.
What does that mean for San Antonio? It turns out that San Antonio River is deeply connected to the much broader watershed in the Hill Country and the Edwards plateau. None of that is federal land, very little is state-owned. What you see as possible is a collaboration between federal agencies like Fish and Wildlife, who are responsible for a lot of the plants and animals in those streams, and state and local organizations to really regenerate the landscape, so that when water hits the ground, it doesn’t just flash off and disappear.
The example for me is not the West but the East… there’s an organization called Common Waters which is a multi-organizational collaborative conservation project for the Delaware river watershed, which provides 15 million people with water… The collaboration includes the Forest Service, which has no land anywhere near there, but it’s got the expertise for watershed restoration projects. The goal is trying to help all the private land owners along the tributaries that flow into the Delaware, to regenerate their part of whatever stream they’re on, to see in restoration a way of helping downstream entities receive better water, cleaner and more of it. The incentive for the land owner is that they’re getting the expertise, they’re getting funding from federal, state, and local organizations, and their properties become that much more valuable. This is a win-win-win-win thing that is really taking off along the Upper Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey… That’s a better model, it seems to me, for Central Texas where again it’s mostly private property, but what the state and the feds have is the expertise, some of the capital and the capacity to raise other monies in collaboration with other organizations, to help people do the work that benefits upstream and downstream users.

I mean, that sounds good, but Texans historically have such a private-ownership philosophy toward how they are stewards of their own land. Do you think that’s something that would get a lot of buy-in here?

Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
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