President, Preserve Our Water
Dave Collins fell in love with the Texas Hill Country when he first visited it as a young boy in 1958. “It’s the same thing that draws everyone. One of the most powerful of my memories is discovering all of these beautiful, clear-running springs. Where I came from, in the Red Dirt Country, you never saw clear running water!” Although he is a fourth generation Texan, Dave grew up in Oklahoma and remained there to work as a management consultant after receiving a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Oklahoma.
He returned to Texas in 1990 and eventually retired to the Hill Country, to land nearby the Pedernales River, where his Great-Great-Grandmother’s Comanche tribe might very well have harvested flint long ago.
Dave is the President of Preserve Our Water (POW), a grassroots, non-profit organization that officially formed in 2006, in response to the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District’s decision to approve the Rockin’ J Ranch subdivision’s water permit application to pump 185 million gallons of water per year — one-third of the water available for permitting in the Middle Trinity in Blanco County. After the groundwater district made this “catastrophic decision,” some of the members of what came to be POW approached Dave about what to do in response. He stepped up to lead POW in establishing non-profit status and lodging a legal battle against the groundwater district — efforts that resulted in a successful settlement that included important changes to the management and operations of the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District. POW’s two-year lawsuit “was instrumental in drawing attention to what was going on in the area” and, according to Dave, “prevented an absolute train wreck.” POW continues to participate in and monitor the groundwater district’s activities, particularly as related to the GMA 9 planning for the future of water in the Hill Country, but the organization’s primary focus has expanded to include promotion of rainwater harvesting throughout the Hill Country.
Though Dave’s work with POW seems like a full plate, he is also engaged in two other areas of activism: Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the group he first joined in 1971, and Pedernales Electric Co-Op (PEC) reform efforts. He also spends time working to develop his property into a wildlife valuation under tax laws, intending to preserve his land for wildlife purposes. Describing his home, Dave comments, “It’s a beautiful spot. When I can, I just spend time enjoying it.”
Dave’s advice for aspiring advocates is simple: “Think strategically.” He elaborates, “Realize what resources you do and do not have. Realize the resources and strengths of those who you may find yourself opposing. Balance the impulse to pursue something simply because it’s right or a good cause with pursuing things that are realistic and achievable.
Program Director, San Marcos River Foundation
Name an occupation, and there’s a good chance Dianne Wassenich has at least dabbled in it. Mural artist, floral designer, tile painter, secretary, journalist, B&B keeper, baker , chef, potter, bookkeeper… she’s just about done it all! Though she’s donned many professional hats, Dianne has been a consistent advocate for the natural environment – especially for rivers, bays, and watersheds – for her entire adult life. Her work with the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) over the past few decades – beginning as a volunteer, then Board member, and now Executive Director – has significantly contributed to the protection of the river and its watershed and estuaries.
Dianne grew up near the Texas Coast, in a small sulfur mining town called Newgulf. She spent much of her childhood outdoors and spent family vacations at the beach, where she and her siblings “fished and crabbed and floundered – even water skied!” Dianne’s experiences at the Coast certainly inform her current work to protect this area’s estuaries and wildlife. Though Dianne began her undergraduate studies at Rice University, she eventually earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Houston in 1972. In the years following her college graduation, Dianne “did pretty much everything – all these little odd jobs,” which is why she’s able to handle just about anything that people ask her to do in her role with SMRF. Perhaps one of the most interesting positions she held was that of head cook for a dude ranch in Idaho, located in what is now called the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, the second largest contiguous area of protected wilderness in the continental United States. Dianne reflects, “We were completely isolated during the winters – there was no way in or out! This was a fabulous place to work – a great learning experience. Working there definitely strengthened my conservation ethic.”
In the next decade, Dianne moved to San Marcos and met her husband, Tom. Over the years, she opened and closed a bakery, worked for a small newspaper, got into tile painting, refurbished and managed a B&B… All the while, she and Tom were involved in SMRF peripherally, fighting wastewater discharge permits and other proposals that threatened the quality of the San Marcos River. As their volunteer efforts with SMRF increased, Dianne and Tom’s commitment to the organization intensified. In 2000, they were part of the SMRF effort to file a water right application to leave water in the San Marcos River and dedicate it to the Texas Water Trust. This was an effort to preserve flow in the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers to reach the coastal bays and estuaries with vital freshwater inflows. After ten years of litigation that effort is now concluded, and instead, Dianne is a stakeholder in the state’s Bay/Basin Environmental flows process set up by the Legislature. Dianne remains hopeful that river flows to the bays will be protected, one way or another.
Dianne loves how conservation work “empowers people to get involved and actually make a difference.” In her own words: “My job means that I get to take action when I see something wrong. That’s very rewarding.”
Bob and Alyne Fitzgerald
Medina County Environmental Action Association
Bob and Alyne could’ve enjoyed a quiet, slow-moving life in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Instead, Bob, a retired neurosurgeon, and Alyne, a practicing tax accountant, do not let a day go by without talking about water issues and planning further protection actions. In Bob’s words, “We eat this stuff for breakfast every day!”
Though Bob isn’t a Texas native (he grew up in Ohio and Alabama), he has lived in Central Texas since 1966, when he transferred to San Antonio as a U.S. Air Force surgeon. Alyne, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Driscoll, Texas, near Corpus Christi, and has always lived in the rural areas of Texas. Both Alyne and Bob “love the land” and are “outside all the time,” so when they learned of related proposals for a quarry and railroad operation located near Quihi, Texas, they immediately began educating themselves about the environmental impacts of these two projects. Bob recounts, “We were under the impression that agencies like the TCEQ, Edwards Aquifer Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers… would evaluate these projects and ensure that the environment would be protected. But the more we learned about these things, the more we realized that essentially, the applicants pretty well dictate what’s going on, and what’s going to happen to the environment.”
Bob and Alyne “knew nothing about anything” when they first got involved in attempting to stop this environmentally harmful development plan. Alyne chuckles, “We started from way behind square one!” As they slowly but surely found out how to navigate the advocacy process (“a huge learning curve for us”), Bob and Alyne found working as a team to be an effective strategy. “I’m the details-seeker; he’s the big picture guy,” Alyne relates. “We get tired, but fortunately, not at the same time – we prop each other up,” Bob adds. Bob and Alyne’s “tremendous drive for getting things done – or, more plainly, stubbornness” has resulted in a successful halt of the quarry and railroad plans – and all without litigation! They feel hopeful that their opponents will permanently abandon their plans, especially due to the 91 mitigation requirements that MCEAA advocated for during the environmental review process, and the land trust covenants that they managed to convince 150 families to agree to.
Bob and Alyne have enough advice to fill a book, but the highlights are as follows: From Alyne, “Be prepared to have [water advocacy] take your life over. Learn how to read maps, courthouse records, and property tax records.” Bob adds, “Use the [FOIA] Federal Open Information Act, and don’t be intimidated to give someone a request – all that information is available to you, if you ask for it.” Both agree, “Rally your neighborhood! People don’t really want to act on anything unless it’s in the backyards – make them see that it’s in their backyards! Even if you’ve had no formal training, you can teach yourself, and if you’re persistent, you can make these agencies do what they’re supposed to do in the first place.”
Founding Member, Kendall County Well Owners Association & Secretary-Pct 2, Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District
Milan Michalec and his wife are permanently settled near Boerne. He and his family have lived in many different locations as a result of his 25-year career with the U.S. Air Force. Regarding their decision to move to the Hill Country upon his retirement from the military, Milan explains, “We’ve been all over the world, and the Hill Country remains our favorite place. It’s literally the best place in the world!” He now serves as the President of the Kendall County Well Owners Association (KCWOA) and Director of Precinct 2 of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District (CCGCD).
In 2004, Milan helped to form the Kendall County Well Owners Association in efforts to stop the formation of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District, ironically enough. “I’m a property owner, and I understood how [groundwater conservation districts] could place limitations on my water, and that offended me. So others and I responded negatively and did all we could to stop the district from forming. We thought it [the CCGCD] was oppressive – that it was denying us our property rights and stepping in when authority already existed at the county level.” After the CCGCD was officially formed, despite the KCWOA’s efforts to stop it, Milan began attending its meetings. Over the next two years, he starting “finding information and getting educated” and finally decided to change course and use his energies to promote groundwater conservation districts instead! Milan explains, “It took two years to change my mind, but I determined that the best way to manage groundwater is through groundwater conservation districts. … Although [limiting the Rule of Capture] is initially portrayed as a denial of property rights, I would maintain that having a district in place that has power to enforce rules enhances property values – the resource can be shared equitably amongst all property owners.”
Milan entered the world of Texas water policy as a novice, but he enthusiastically self-educates himself and applies the principles and policies that he promotes as a conservation district Director. “I’m not a hydrologist. I’m not a geologist. I have no science background, but I do know how to read, and I understand how policy is formulated. A better educated citizen can effect policy and change things for the better.”
Milan’s firm belief in the power of policy to bring about real change stems largely from his years in the U.S. Air Force. He explains, “The military is very structured, so policy dictates action. If you can change policy, though, you can take a different action. And you can change policy by expressing an informed, respectful position. I found that this has direct application for anyone who wants to change water management in Texas.”
Carolyn Chipman Evans
Founder and Executive Director, Cibolo Nature Center
A self-taught naturalist who attended art school, Carolyn Chipman Evans grew up in San Antonio in a time when “having wooded areas wasn’t so uncommon.” She spent summers at the family ranch in Boerne, seeking solace among the lush Hill Country foliage. Her experiences with the natural environment growing up are the reason Carolyn “developed a deep love and appreciation for nature.” In fact, Carolyn asserts that “most conservationists were first inspired by opportunities to play in nature,” as she did as a child.
Carolyn moved to Boerne at 19 and started working with the city to develop a tree protection ordinance a decade later. “New businesses were coming into town, chopping down trees – it was terrible!” Meanwhile, Cibolo Creek, a beautiful waterway in her youth, was being used by developers as a receptacle for construction debris. Anxious to stop the pollution of this once-pristine area, Carolyn joined with other concerned citizens and city leaders to form a group to start cleaning up local natural areas. Now known as the Friends of the Cibolo Wilderness, this group eventually opened the Cibolo Nature Center (CNC), which provides education, research, entertainment, and outdoor activities while promoting sound stewardship of land, water, and wildlife.
Carolyn and the dedicated volunteers at the CNC persistently strive to “educate elected officials and move the community toward a more conservation-minded direction.” Since 1998, the CNC has preserved 2,500 acres of land through conservation easements, in partnership with their sister organization, the Cibolo Conservancy, which operates as a land trust.
Reflecting on her almost 20 years of involvement with the CNC, Carolyn remarks, “We realized early on that you can’t conserve a place unless people really understand it. We needed to teach people what was so special about it… so that’s what we did. Most people love it when they get out there.”