Jacob's Well closes to swimmers for the 'foreseeable future'
Jacob’s Well, a popular natural swimming hole in Wimberley, may not open for swimming this summer.
The swimming hole will be closed “for the foreseeable future,” the Hays County Parks Department said Thursday. Normally, it would open May 1.
The decision comes as the outflow of water from Jacob’s Well into Cypress Creek has reached an unsafe level for swimming amid an intense drought. This time last year, the well’s flow was 4.45 cubic feet per second. On Friday afternoon, the flow was only 0.9 cubic feet per second.
“If we don't see any major, major improvements, an increase in outflow and a return of normal water levels in the creek, we won't be able to safely let folks swim,” said Katherine Sturdivant, education coordinator for the Hays County Parks Department.
Around 87% of Hays County is in an extreme drought, and 19% is experiencing an exceptional drought, the most intense level, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The state of the well highlights dwindling groundwater in the area. The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District is currently in an emergency state that has reduced groundwater pumping by 40%. The district is asking residents to conserve water in every way possible.
“Aquifer and river conditions have not been this poor in the 20 plus year history of the District — including the 2011 drought,” the district's website says.
Last July, Jacob’s Well stopped flowing for the fifth time in its recorded history and closed to swimmers in August through the remainder of 2022. Sturdivant said it's highly likely Jacob Well’s could stop flowing again if drought conditions do not improve. She said the area’s growing population is placing an increased demand on the already stressed Middle Trinity Aquifer, which supplies Jacob’s Well, and groundwater systems.
“We're not getting any more water here, but the requirement of our groundwater resources has definitely increased,” Sturdivant said. “We need to be very careful about our groundwater use here in the area.”
Sturdivant said the area hasn’t received enough rain since the summer to recharge the aquifer. As rain must go through many layers of rock to reach it, the aquifer recharges slowly. During one large rain event or flood, much of the precipitation runs off into other places besides the aquifer, Strurdivant said, so continuous rainfall will be needed for the aquifer to refill and the outflow from Jacob’s Well to improve.
“We're going to need to view, probably at least for a couple of weeks, continuous flow that looks like it's holding out before we go ahead and make the call to allow swimming,” Sturdivant said.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 people visit Jacob’s Well each year, Sturdivant said, meaning the swimming hole’s closure could greatly affect Wimberley’s tourism-driven economy.
“Jacob's Well Natural Area is certainly bringing a lot of people out towards Wimberley and the Hill Country,” Sturdivant said. “You're probably going to lose some of the people that were coming out here on their vacation.”
Sturdivant said people can help the situation by being careful with their water usage. She said it’s also important to protect water quality by not putting pet waste, pollutants or excess fertilizers into the ground.
“As flows get very low, these waterways become more susceptible to pollution, as the waterways cannot naturally clear that out,” Sturdivant said.
The nature preserve is still open for visiting and hiking.
The Hays County Parks Department says it will be posting any updates to its website.