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Junction Campus Researchers Receive $1.1 Million Grant

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant will aid in developing a watershed protection plan.

Written by John Davis

The Upper Llano River Healthy Watershed Initiative can be replicated throughout the South Central Region, addressing climate change, drought and floods.

The Upper Llano River Healthy Watershed Initiative can be replicated throughout the South Central Region, addressing climate change, drought and floods.

Researchers at Texas Tech’s Llano River Field Station in Junction recently received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a watershed protection plan for the Upper Llano River watershed, which runs through campus.

Through a federal Clean Water Act 319(h) grant from the EPA through the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station, Texas Tech Water Resource Center, Texas Water Resources Institute, and South Llano River Watershed Alliance will work to facilitate the stakeholder process for development of the plan.

Tom Arsuffi, director of the field station and watershed coordinator for the project, said the money will be used to develop a geographical inventory of the area and determine current water quality and biological conditions.

Also, scientists will analyze watershed data to assess conditions and make recommendations for the watershed protection plan to achieve natural resource goals, provide landowners and others training workshops best management practices, including land stewardship, riparian protection and wildlife habitat plans, and create a water and watershed Texas Essential Knowledge Skills-based curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Just like preventative medicine, the EPA has figured out why we shouldn’t wait until rivers and lakes become polluted to do something about them,” Arsuffi said. “Through cost analyses, they discovered that if you protect water and rivers proactively, it’s orders of magnitude cheaper to keep them clean than it is to bring them back after they’ve become polluted and impaired.”

The project area includes the North and South Llano rivers merging in Junction into the Llano River, a key component of flows to the Colorado River and a critical supplier of water to the Highland Lakes and city of Austin, especially during drought.

The initiative can be used to study sound ecological environments for  groundwater, springs, rivers and lakes, and STEM studies.

The initiative can be used to study sound ecological environments for groundwater, springs, rivers and lakes, and STEM studies.

The roughly 250-square-mile project also dovetails into the new South Central Climate Science Center because studying watersheds can be used to look at climate change, he said.

“Ecological scale is critical to addressing questions of climate change and fish and wildlife diversity and conservation,” Arsuffi said. “The watershed is one scale that is productive to evaluate terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity in response to a changing climate.”

The Upper Llano River Healthy Watershed Initiative can be a model that can be replicated throughout the South Central Region to address climate change, drought and floods on the best management practices for brush control, wildlife, restoration, biodiversity and conservation, he said.

Also, it can be used to study sound ecological environments for groundwater, springs, rivers and lakes, and studies, programs and workshops on natural resources and STEM school content for students, teachers, parents and the public.

This effort also is coordinated with ongoing Upper Llano Watershed Conservation Plan efforts by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the South Llano Water River Watershed Alliance to restore Guadalupe Bass populations.

“The South Llano River is a true gem of the Texas Hill Country,” Arsuffi said. “Its spring-fed flows are legendary. The South Llano River is important in that during periods of low rainfall and minimal surface runoff, spring flow from the underlying aquifers is paramount in maintaining surface flows.”

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