SAN ANTONIO, TX – Scientists will soon begin decades-long research that will help them better understand ways to improve the Edwards Aquifer through quality and quantity.
In November, the Edwards Aquifer Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that supports the Edwards Aquifer Authority, was granted more than 150 acres of land known as Cibolo Vista Tracts 1 and 2 by the city of San Antonio.
The $5.5 million property is along the East Evans Road, just east of Highway 281, and sits along a major fault line — Cibolo Creek along the recharge zone.
Roland Ruiz, general manager of the EAA, said the regional makeup of the area makes it an important property for scientists to study.
"The recharge zone is one of the most environmentally sensitive parts of the aquifer system," Ruiz said. "The recharge zone is where the aquifer essentially meets the land surface and where it's most susceptible to impacts from surface water runoff into the aquifer."
Scientists have been limited when studying the aquifer because a lot of it is on private property, and they are granted permission to enter it for a limited time.
Mark Hamilton, one of the researchers with the EAA, said having a property allows scientists to have an outdoor laboratory where they can watch for water and soil changes over the years and decades.
"What we really hope to accomplish is to achieve a higher level of sustainability for the system," Hamilton said. "You know, we're so fortunate to have an aquifer system that's clean. It recharges very quickly and very easily when we get good rainfalls. But the goal is to keep it that way."
Scientists hope to study the water cycle, land management, soil richness, water pollution and how the booming development around the recharge zone impacts water quality. Results from the data collected could lead to policy changes. More than 2 million people rely on water from the aquifer.
Ruiz said the start of this research is legacy work.
"The benefits, for example, of the research and the studies may not be fully realized in just a few years. It's going to be generational. We're talking about a generational impact," he said. "And I think that sometimes is lost in the discussions about protecting our resources."
The acquisition of the property also gives the EAA some groundwork to reach out to other agencies and universities to begin partnering with on the research. Researchers say there’s too much to be done, and they can’t do it alone.
The property was purchased with San Antonio tax dollars through the 1/8th-cent sales tax first passed in 2000, known as the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, in which the city purchased sensitive property along the aquifer.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg recently announced his intention to end the sales tax funding for the protection program and instead ask voters to pass a 1/8th-cent sales tax geared toward transportation improvements. He said he intends to seek funding from other sources for the continuation of the protection program.