Dianne Wassenich has been the central and often sole spokesman for the San Marcos River and has propelled not just the city of San Marcos but the state to revisit their ideas of unlimited and unregulated water sources.
In the early 1980’s, poorly treated wastewater poured into the river, the local fish hatchery drained their tanks directly into the streambed and several entities were ready to pump large quantities of water out of the river. Dianne and members of the River Foundation, armed with research, data and solutions, diligently pressed for higher standards, occasionally going to court. In doing so, she highlighted the special relationship this river has to the community, where people have lived continuously for the last 10 thousand years.
In 1999, the River Foundation filed an instream water rights application for 1.3 million acre feet of water- the amount a state study determined was necessary for the bays to remain healthy and active- with the intent of leaving the water in the river, which was unheard of. This resulted in a ten year legal battle where SMRF was supported by numerous entities including, farmers, downstream cities, fisherman, shrimpers, and other environmental groups who had a direct interest in seeing a flow of freshwater reach the coastal bays, (especially the areas where whooping cranes migrate in the winter) and who believed that the state was overestimating flows in the granting of water rights. This case propelled TCEQ and later the legislature to re-evaluate and re-vamp instream rights and set up a process to review scientific evidence for water needs in rivers and bays.
SMRF has embarked on its biggest project by securing conservation easements and land in critical aquifer recharge zones around San Marcos. As more development and growth is anticipated in the region, both the clarity and flow of the river is threatened by more impervious cover and heavier run off from storms. SMRF realizes that this is the time to secure green spaces and establish parkland to prevent dense development in environmentally sensitive areas. Dianne has raised millions of dollars through grants, with partners, to purchase a conservation easement on one ranch and has negotiated the purchase of two more ranches totaling over 300 acres for future conservation easements, and ensuring a clean and steady flow of water into the river for generations to come.
The crystal-clear water bubbling out of the aquifer, the abundance of rare and endangered species and the incredible beauty, she reminded us, is not to be taken for granted. Dianne has become the voice of the river, making sure the public and public officials understand how construction, development and even recreation can threaten the health and vitality of the river. Dianne has encouraged and sponsored many other informal groups to take on the responsibility of protecting the river through clean-ups, water quality monitoring, and community discussions about how growth should occur to ensure that the river will be in this condition, if not better, for future residents. As proof of her impact, the San Marcos is remarkably river-conscious and issues revolving around the river generate lots of public comment and discussion, a sign of a robust community. The water has never been cleaner, the flow is now protected through pumping restrictions and conservation plans, parklands have replaced flood prone areas, and green spaces help clean storm runoff and allow the aquifer to refill.