Habitat Conservation Plan brings changes to San Marcos River

SAN MARCOS -- Like a prospector sifting for gold, Nick Manchaca squatted down in the shallows of the San Marcos River, fumbling along the pebbled floor in search of invasive snails.

"These guys they overwhelm and over populate," explained Manchaca, holding up a Melanoides snail shell.

He's just one of more than a dozen employees paid for by the Habitat Conservation Plan, dedicated to keeping the river clean and healthy while participating in HCP projects.

"The Habitat Conservation Plan is a federal permit that's in place to protect the habitat in which endangered species live," explained HCP project manager Melani Howard.

The plan, established in 2011, seeks to manage the use of the San Marcos and Comal Rivers in a way which will keep the waters flowing by doing things like removing invasive species and promoting the growth of native plants.

One of the most visible projects has been the addition of about seven new stone river access points along the San Marcos River. The goal, says Howard, was to provide river users with a beautiful and functional way to access the river, without eroding the bank or damaging surrounding habitats.

The HCP is also responsible for a series of buffers, similar to pool noodles, along the river that are in place to protect Texas Wild Rice, a variety of rice exclusive to the San Marcos River.

"When you're protecting an endangered species habitat, you're protecting everybody," said Howard.

In addition to the rice, the HCP strives to promote healthy populations of the San Marcos Salamander, and Fountain Darter.

Eric Weeks is the manager of the Conservation Crew, a team of young people that have become familiar faces along the waterways since the projects started.

While they spend their days managing litter and communicating with river users about the value of the projects the HCP has put in place,Weeks says his real hope is to see their efforts cultivate a greater respect and stewardship for the river.

"A lot of people say, 'are you volunteers? Are you getting paid?' And we're like 'this is the best job ever,"' said Weeks.

The HCP is a long-term plan for river sustainability. It's currently the first seven year phase, to be followed by a second eight year plan.

And it's going on all along the Comal and San Marcos River, funded by Texas State and cities that use the Edward's Aquifer to survive.


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