June 17th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Where Do We Go From Here?
By Hillfisher

There is a growing concern over the usage of the inland waterways, canals and wells of Texas. Having talked to Game wardens, city, county and state law enforcers I have learned several facts that I never knew and several ideas have been introduced by these individuals to help control and conserve our waters. There is one individual in our Corp of Game Wardens who wants to change things to save our water resources and have them managed in a sanely manner. While I do not support all these solutions myself, in fairness I have included all of them. These are his words:

" There are many uses of water in our great state that are not of any expense to the using public. Anyone who is using the water resources for a profit should be required to pay for the use of such a necessary and vital resource.

Users of water for irrigation purposes from flowing streams are only out the expense of a 34 cent postage stamp. Example; if I have 11 acres of alfalfa and want 11 acre feet of water per year, all I must do is apply for it.

SOLUTION: Charge a minimum of $1.00 per acre foot of water taken from a flowing stream. In the above example the user would be charged $11.00. This amount spread out over the price of a crop of alfalfa hay would be extremely minimal and yet if instituted statewide would generate millions of dollars that would fund a regulatory agency and the salaries of the water masters.

Authors note: The Rio Grande has a noticeable drop in water levels. In places where one could canoe or raft down the river, requires portage now. The San Saba will completely stop flowing due to the amount of water pumped out to support the pecan orchards along certain stretches during the summer.

Drinking water- As we are all aware, drinking water taken from impoundments is not only used for drinking purposes but also the watering of yards etc. One has only to drive down our city streets and see the water running down the gutters to see the unwise use of our drinking water.

SOLUTION: Charge the municipalities and others drawing water from our impoundments a pro- rated fee for the use of this water and encourage the wise use of our water by making it a Class C Misdemeanor, enforceable by any certified peace officer, for the waste of water.

Authors note: Many cities have this Class C Misdemeanor but are enforced only after drought conditions exist.

Well water irrigation- currently there are no restrictions on the use of well water for irrigation purposes and one just has to drive through farm country to see wells pumping out water while it is raining and even after rains which pulls the water table down requiring homeowners and others such as ranchers with windmills to have to continually lower their wells.

SOLUTION: Install meters on all irrigation wells and charge a pro-rated amount for any amount over an established reasonable amount. Encourage the wise use of water by beginning programs in schools and various farm organizations. Encourage the use of water retention pits that would catch runoff that could be pumped at no penalty to the user and encourage the use of natural resources such as windmills, wind-chargers, solar panels, etc., etc., by not charging for the water recovered by the use of these resources.

301-87 on March 1, 2002, creating the American Conservation Corp to ease unemployment problems and aid conservation, is a very good bi-partisan indicator of the importance of conservation to a large majority of all the elected representatives of our great country. Now is the time to enact measures and establish programs that will be funded by the Federal government that will once again put Texas at the forefront of the conservation movement that is just beginning.

Water Masters need to be re-established and be in place and overseeing, the building of all water retention ponds, lakes, ditches, irrigation canals, etc., and the current use of all our water resources, to be sure all requirements of the law are followed.

Recreational uses- Currently, users of our water resources for recreation are enjoying a free ride. Just as one cannot expect to be given free entrance to a movie theater, one should not expect to use a natural resource for fun or profit at no charge. The use of our water for recreational profit should be licensed and regulated just as any other use. Example; the Schlitterbahn users create a tremendous littering problem as do fishermen and other recreational water users. A fee to operate a business is certainly in order. Such fees may be added to fishing licenses, boat registrations, sewage permits, and a fee to operate a water related business included on any state required license.

Recovery methods- The recovery of water can be in several methods such as those mentioned above. Another method would be the use of brush control to renew our flowing streams. As a child growing up in South Texas, I heard the saying that a cactus plant consumes 11 times its weight in water per day and a mesquite bush consumes 7 times its weight in water per day. What of cedar and other flora? I am aware of Rocky Creek in lrion County, Texas being restored to a running stream by just removing the brush for a certain distance on each side of the stream. If all brush is removed and then plants necessary for the prevention of soil erosion re-established by the American Conservation Corps is the problem not solved? A study of Texas history reveals that much of Texas was a native grassland and the overgrazing and prevention of natural processes, such as fires, enhanced the growth of underbrush thereby reducing the flow of water in stream, springs and seeps and furthermore reducing the availability of water to wildlife and domestic animals.

The above listed suggestions and solutions are the thoughts of one person and only a minute part of the problem as I see it. However, we must start somewhere and in view of the developments in Washington and the current widespread approval for conservation measures across our great nation, the time to act is now!!!

Will we drink oil or water?"

As more fishermen specifically fly fishermen, are emerging from a fast growing popularity of the sport, especially the last couple of years, more confrontations are taking place between the fishermen and landowners. On top of all this, some clubs and drivers of off road vehicles (ORV's ) are adding to the tension.

There was a post not long ago to where a fly fisherman was fishing under a state highway bridge and the landowner at the point of a shotgun told him to leave. He informed the fisherman that all the property belonged to him. The fisherman wisely left but went into town and reported the incident to the local police. He was simply told to find another place to fish. The fly fisher was in his right by definition of:

*TEXAS NAVIGABLE BY STATUTE

Under a law dating from 1837, a stream is navigable so far as it retains an average width of 30 feet from its mouth up. The width measured is the distance between the fast (or firmly fixed) land banks. A stream satisfying the 30-foot rule is sometimes referred to as "statutorily navigable" or "navigable by statute." Under a court decision, the public has rights along a stream navigable by statute just as if the stream were navigable in fact.

*TEXAS PUBLIC ACCESS TO NAVIGABLE STREAMS

Access must usually be obtained through the use of public property. The typical access may be from the right-of-way of a public road that crosses the stream, through a publicly-owned boat launch area, or from some other public land (a park, for example) adjacent to the stream. There is no general right to cross private property to get to a navigable stream. There are a number of privately-owned parks or campgrounds where members of the public may have access to a navigable stream by paying a small fee to the landowner. If the private landowner forbids access, an attempt to use the private land would be a trespass.

State law prohibits parking on a highway bridge and generally forbids (with certain exceptions) parking in the main traveled part of a highway. Within a public road's right-of-way, private fencing that restricts public passage to the stream is illegal.

I have talked to several landowners who have property along rivers and creeks and they all share the same concerns, destruction of property including the leaving of trash. I too own creek-side property and being below a bridge, I am always picking up various amounts trash along my banks. Does it bother me to see kids walking up the creek fishing and playing in the water, no, but I do stop anyone I see throw out trash and just plan to leave it. Texas does have some stiff litter laws as well as most other states. The law seems pretty straightforward to me, if it's 30 feet bank to bank, It is Public Right of Way. I think the simplest way to get the public and land owners informed is to do a media sweep doing a quick commercial on the basic TEXAS NAVIGABLE BY STATUTE LAW. I also think that the state should identify all public waterways whether it be rivers, creeks, canals etc either by a listing by name or a visual map. These maps could be official state documents so that a river user can show a landowner if there arises a question of who's right.

One of the ways this could be done is by following the example of the hunters permit. In order to get to hunt on Texas Public lands, you have to purchase a separate public land usage permit. This is accompanied along with a detailed book of maps of all the public lands and other very useful information. The only way you can get the book is by getting the permit…period! For those who are serious about hunting but cannot afford a lease, are very willing to pay the extra money.

The same can be done for river/creek fishing. Besides normal fishing permit and along with already established additions such as the trout stamp. The requirement of a river stamp to fish all moving waters within the state boundaries will go a long ways to help budget the lists or maps as well as additional game wardens giving more coverage and reaction to violators. For those who are caught on identified public moving waters fishing, without the river stamp, stiff fines and judges who will enforce them will provide additional funding and the word will spread quickly and one of two things will happen, More stamps well be bought or there will be less usage/infringement on the waters.

For the first time in Texas history we have to truly deal with crowded conditions in our state parks and on just about all the lakes. It was reported a couple of weeks ago by our local news that Texas has the highest death rate of any state in boating accidents on inland waters. I truly hope things change. But without our input and standing up and speaking with our lawmakers . . . the changes may not be what we want.

Where do we go from here? ~ Hillfisher

* Taken from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web Site,
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/texaswater/rivers/navigationjump.htm


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