Water Sustainability at the Heart of Cordillera Ranch
There is one single common resource that all life depends on: water. In the Texas Hill Country everyone knows that water is precious and scarce and the recent drought only heightened our awareness of this simple fact. The majority of rural areas of the Hill Country depend solely on groundwater supplies (wells) and groundwater supplies in this area are projected to limit future growth in the Hill Country.
Understanding these water sustainability constraints, best water management practices have been at the core of nearly every planning decision at Cordillera Ranch since inception. It’s been understood even since the mid-1990’s when the first phase was in planning that being good stewards of the land and best water management practices were critically important to the long-term viability of this development. There is a delicate balance in water management and development, and a project with this length of development horizon entails major long-range water source planning and strategic decisions such as landscape specifications and others help contribute to make Cordillera Ranch as water-resource friendly as possible. This article hopefully gives some insight into the wide variety of measures that have been taken by Cordillera Ranch to help offer the best lifestyle in the Texas Hill Country with the least impact on water resources.
Residential Landscaping Practices
The highest intensity use of domestic water is landscape irrigation and for that reason we restrict homes to only a very small amount of irrigated landscaping around the building footprint (two additional benefits of this practice are a more aesthetically appealing landscape and lower landscape maintenance costs). Many neighborhoods allow you to landscape as much as you want which can lead to people irrigating double or triple of land that is necessary to provide a nice refined lawn immediately around the house. That alone on a community of this size could save tens of millions of gallons of water a year at full build out.
In addition to the amount of area homeowners are restricted to irrigate, the list of plants and grasses allowed in Cordillera Ranch was carefully chosen with water use needs for each in mind. Native plants and grasses that tolerate the arid – and more recently drought – climate of the hill country make up the core of the plants required at Cordillera Ranch. Among other design criteria that are part of the Best Water Management Practices at Cordillera Ranch are: 1) requirements that irrigation systems are equipped with rain sensors, 2) restrictions on the type of irrigation heads so that water evaporation is minimized, 3) requirements for 4” minimum soil depth for any turf grasses (to better hold water and thus reduce irrigation needs) and 4) encouraging the use of drip irrigation instead of spray.
Even when we were developing lots supplied by wells in the early years, units were actually developed at a much lower density than what was required by Kendall County in an effort to minimize impact to groundwater resources and preserve the character of the ranch. In fact, the first 3,600 acres of the community – where lots are served by wells – are at a density that is 60% less than what Cordillera Ranch could develop under Kendall County regulations. This conservation approach saves an estimated 145 million gallons of groundwater per year over the Cordillera Ranch area of the Trinity Aquifer.
Also, the low density development plan for Cordillera Ranch will leave over 70% of the ranch in its native undisturbed vegetation which significantly limits impervious cover thus allowing for better recharge of the aquifer in rainfall events.
Transition from Groundwater to Surface Water
In 2003, Cordillera Ranch secured an agreement with GBRA as part of the GBRA Western Canyon Pipeline to serve the remaining development in the Ranch with surface water supplied from Canyon Lake (thus new lots are not served by wells). From 2005-2007, Cordillera Ranch built a water storage facility off Joe Klar Road and a central water distribution system for the Clubs Village and Units 104 (and beyond) stretching for miles across the community. By switching to GBRA surface water and not using groundwater wells the impact on the aquifer is being minimized. Overall the number of wells on the 8,700 acres of Cordillera Ranch will be over 75% less than what would be allowed if we had not brought in GBRA Canyon Lake water – that amounts to over 400 million gallons of well water annually that will not be drawn from the Trinity Aquifer because of the use of GBRA water. That significantly improves the viability of the well water for those that are on wells in Cordillera Ranch and the surrounding area.
Best Agronomic Practices for Golf Course
In the early 2000’s as preparations were being made to develop the Clubs of Cordillera Ranch and the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, long-range water planning was at the forefront of discussion. Local historical rainfall records were used to analyze what we could expect from mother nature and calculations were made on water needs through various detailed water modeling. However, timing is everything. In the five years leading up to the golf course construction average annual rainfall in Cordillera Ranch was 48 inches per year. In the years since we have averaged 37% less annual rainfall (30 inches) and if you throw out the 61 inches from 2007, we have averaged 25 inches per year. Needless to say, nobody would have predicted a drier seven years immediately after developing a new golf course.
However, the water modeling and planning implemented in the golf course development have proven worthwhile and allowed for incredible golf course conditions in the face of such a severe and prolonged drought – basically our planning has definitely been put to the test. A few of the ways in which Cordillera Ranch’s investment in design and operation methods help minimize water needs for the golf course and diversify water resources while maintaining top quality turf:
River water rights were secured and an intricate pipeline system from the river to the golf course;
A cutting-edge water recycling center was developed so treated effluent can be recycled and used for irrigation; at full build out of the community, this will be the primary source of irrigation water for the golf course;
An advanced irrigation system was developed to allow for individual irrigation head control (i.e. a single irrigation head may be adjusted for wet or dry area);
Advanced on-site weather station allows irrigation system to water to evapotransipiration (Et), i.e. the amount of moisture lost to temperature, humidity, wind, etc. Allows to water exactly what is needed and not waste and alarms can be set to start, stop, and pause an irrigation cycle;
Diverse mix of water resources so that one single source isn’t overly strained: river water, four storage ponds of approximately 20+ million gallons of storage, recycled water, and Canyon Lake water;
Zoysia grass was used in the fairways which is drought-tolerant and requires less water than typical Bermuda grasses;
Best Agronomics Practices (BAP) are utilized to promote healthy turfgrass and deep root systems in all grasses which includes deep and infrequent water practices among other methods;
Use of wetting agents from tee-to-green to make watering more efficient;
Plant growth regulators are used from tee-to-green allowing plant to store energy for stressful times (i.e. drought) instead of top growth; promotes stronger root system which minimizes water quantity needs;
Hand water with hose-end nozzles utilized during hot summer months on isolated areas
Developing with sustainability in mind is essential for any development and particularly for large communities like Cordillera Ranch. There is not a single “silver bullet” to solve the water sustainability issues in developing a community, but taken together the methods we employ in planning , design and operation at Cordillera Ranch drastically reduce the impact to groundwater resources in Cordillera Ranch. Of course, when all else fails, we simply resort to heavy use of native tribal rain dances!