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How A West Texas Nonprofit Hopes To Get Comanche Springs Flowing Again

Comanche Springs
Photo via Flickr/imagesbywestfall (CC BY 2.0)
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Comanche Springs

From Texas Standard:

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the the nonprofit group working to restore water to Comanche Springs is Texas Water Trade.

A West Texas group wants to restore what was once a major natural asset – Fort Stockton's Comanche Springs.

It's been 60 years since the springs flowed year-round, thanks to a Texas law that allows farmers to pump as much water as they want from aquifers, to irrigate their fields. But the new group is looking at ways to bring back all-year access to the springs, including possibly paying farmers not to pump.

Abbie Perrault, managing editor of the Big Bend Sentinel, told Texas Standard that Comanche Springs is at the location where Fort Stockton was founded in the 1800s. Revamping the spring is desirable because it can easily be recharged, even after being overpumped for so many years. And the community wants to attract visitors.

"It's definitely part of bridging back Fort Stockton as a site for tourism," Perrault said. "It used to be a place where people would come and gather, similar to Balmorhea State Park."

Tourism is important as oil and gas revenue, which has sustained Fort Stockton over the years, becomes more erratic, as boom and bust cycles continue.

When the water stopped flowing at Comanche Springs, an Olympic-sized swimming pool was built on top.

"People still use it to this day, but there's definitely a connection to this bottom pool, and some in this movement are actually interested in tearing out the Olympic pool and bringing back that natural swimming hole," Perrault said.

To revitalize Comanche Springs, boosters will need to change the law that allows farmers to capture as much water as they want, or encourage farmers to limit consumption on their own. The Texas Water Trade is looking for other ways to work with farmers, including potentially paying them to use less irrigation on their land.

Perrault says Texas Water Trade has collected millions of dollars and is hopeful its effort to save the springs will succeed.

Farmers will need to be convinced, of course.

"I think there's some reticence, as anything new that comes along, that water conservation will be a worthy endeavor," Perrault said. "Texas has a growing population. Water isn't getting any less precious. And people are looking for ways to at least improve the efficiency of their irrigation equipment, whether or not the spring returns."