Non-Profits Sustainability and Environment

Kyle McHenry, San Marcos River Foundation


For the past semester I have worked with the San Marcos River Foundation or SMRF as it is more commonly known.  The experience of working with SMRF has allowed me to view the process by which environmental conservation methods are implemented: how cities are planned and organized: the political, economic and human interests battling in all of it. This paper will discuss the current threats to the San Marcos River, a history overview of SMRF, current plans in action to improve environmental sustainability locally, and the broader impact that SMRF has had on environmental policy.

The San Marcos River is home to several endangered species that do not exist anywhere else in the world. Because the endangered species present are dependent upon the river there is a back-up facility, the federal fish hatchery which is located on McCarty lane, where they can be taken and preserved in case of extreme drought. The removal of endangered organisms such as the Texas Wild Rice will be one such solution discussed further in the Habitat Conservation Plan section.

Figure 2

Figure 1

Right now, the Texas wild rice (Zizania texana) is a focus of protection because it only grows in the upper two miles of the San Marcos River and does not exist anywhere else in the world. The plant can be seen scattered in clusters throughout the upper part of the San Marcos River. Because the San Marcos River is a popular place for river recreation activities the Texas Wild Rice is often uprooted and destroyed by people walking in the river in shallow spots. This has further limited its ability to reproduce. The rarity and endangered status of the plant has sparked several laws to be enacted both federally and locally to protect it from extinction.

The Texas Wild Rice has been federally protected since it was registered on April 26th 1976 (Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Wild Rice). It is already illegal by state and federal laws to uproot or disturb the Texas Wild Rice. In addition, last year Texas Parks and Wildlife voted to designate the section of the San Marcos River from the Spring Lake dam to the City of San Marcos Water Treatment plant as a State Scientific Area which will further protect the Wild Rice and allow for much more public education on the plant. (Berkin, University Star: Wild Rice Desecration Outlawed on State Level).

Along with the Texas Wild Rice, there are two species of fish that reside in San Marcos River also endangered. They are the fountain darter (Etheostoma Fonticola) and the San Marcos Gambusia (Gambusia Georgei). The Fountain darter is a small fish usually no bigger than a few centimeters that lives near the springs where they can hide in the green algae (Texas Parks & Wildlife, Fountain Darter). The population of the Fountain darter is thought to have declined because of decreased amount of water flowing through the springs because of human use.

Finally the San Marcos River is also host to two species of salamanders that are endangered, the Texas blind salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) which lives down inside the aquifer, and the San Marcos Salamander (Eurycea Nana) which lives along the river banks. The Texas blind salamander is a troglodyte, which means that it lives completely down in the dark caves of the aquifer and cannot survive outside of them (Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Blind Salamander). The Texas Blind Salamander is a white translucent color with blood red gills that stick out externally and are used for absorbing oxygen from the water. As an adult it reaches a size of about 5inches.

The San Marcos Salamander is smaller than the Texas Blind Salamander usually one to two inches in length (Texas Parks & Wildlife, San Marcos Salamander). The San Marcos Salamander unlike the blind salamander lives above ground in the San Marcos River. It likes to hide in algae and moss which is where its food source, other small creatures, is located. The San Marcos Salamander is not generally found in muddy water and needs clean and clear flowing water of consistent temperature to survive.

The major threat to all these species as mentioned before is decreased spring flow.  All these species together make central Texas a key area for environmental and river conservation. SMRF is dedicated to protecting the river and threatened species from degradation, and harmful effects of urbanization. San Marcos is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in North America (at least 12,000 years) because the San Marcos River has never run dry. Because the river has never run dry there still could be undiscovered rare species that still dwell deep inside the aquifer to be discovered, and protected.

Dianne Wassenich is the program manager of SMRF and is currently the only full time staff member of the organization. SMRF was founded in 1985 during the Sesquicentennial celebration for the community by a small group of San Marcos citizens plus civic groups like the Heritage Association, and Lions Club. Together they established a small endowment fund to generate interest income to be used for river protection.

Interning with the San Marcos River Foundation was truly a great life experience. I have learned more about the importance of conservation and community involvement than I learned in any class. The San Marcos River Foundation represents but a small fraction of the work that is being done in the Texas to help restore river environments and water quality. The practice of environmental awareness and the capacity to make or break our future ultimately lies with us, the people. While it is understood that not everyone cares about the environment, it is as clear to me now as the San Marcos River that we are all in this together. The continued preservation of the river and the aquifer keeps us alive. So there is not really any choice, we must keep it clean, we must keep it flowing.


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