EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
While the cooler temperatures March 2 were enough to send some people inside, a number of folks rolled up their sleeves, and pants legs, sowed seeds, and planted vegetation along a stretch of Sandy Creek.
“We want to be proactive by doing riparian zone restoration,” Fermin Ortiz said.
He and about 25 local landowners, concerned residents, and volunteers gathered along the creek at CR 316 in Llano County.
Ortiz and several other residents and landowners are concerned about a sand-mining operation planned for a part of Sandy Creek and how it could affect the waterway. Their efforts that day go beyond their concern about the proposed excavation and center on the health of Sandy Creek as well as other nearby creeks and rivers.
The Hill Country Alliance, along with supporting partners such as the Llano River Watershed Alliance and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, hosted the Sandy Creek Riparian Field Day on March 2.
A riparian zone or area, according to Daniel Oppenheimer of the Hill Country Alliance, is basically the transition zone between the water — usually a creek, stream, or river — and uplands. The riparian zone is home to unique flora that have evolved for this transitional area. Riparian zone plants have root systems or structures that help stabilize the banks and nearby soil, thus cutting down on erosion.
Riparian zones only make up 1-2 percent of the overall land mass, but these areas play critical roles in water quality, water quantity, flooding and erosion, and fish and wildlife habitat as well as stabilizing the banks.
The March 2 program was on private property on Sandy Creek, but many of the management techniques could be applied on other Hill Country streams and rivers, Oppenheimer said.
“There were some nuances for Sandy Creek, but there’s things that can be used in other places,” he said.
The volunteers planted more than 200 plants of Emory sedge, spikerush, switchgrass, black willow, Eastern gamagrass, and Lindheimer muhly.
While riparian zones play a significant role in the health of streams and rivers, and overall water quality and quantity issues, they face challenges. Many riparian areas have fallen into disrepair for a number of reasons.
Oppenheimer pointed out that some of it’s because of animals, some of it’s due to human activity.
“We have an overabundance of ungulates — feral hogs, native white-tailed deer, and exotic species of deer — and, collectively, they eat a lot of the (plant) species we need,” he said. “Sometimes, a landowner may aggressively mow along the creek. We’re not saying they shouldn’t, and grazing is fine, but you have to look at how you’re doing it. It’s not the action itself but how you do it.”
Overdoing an action can lead to degrading the riparian zone.
During the March 2 workshop, Oppenheimer and noted land manager Steve Nelle, along with a few others, showed people how they could help restore and reinvigorate riparian zones by planting certain species of shrubs, trees, sedges, and rushes.
While the volunteers only targeted a small portion of Sandy Creek, it’s a start.
“We plan to work our way upstream,” Ortiz said. “Like planting a garden, you can only do so during a certain window of time, and that time has come and gone for this year.”
Ortiz and Save Sandy Creek, an organization that opposes the planned sand mine but also advocates for the waterway, are raising funds to purchase more plants for riparian restoration. Members are already stockpiling black willows.
One of the goals is to raise enough funds so Sandy Creek landowners who want to restore their riparian zones can get plants from Save Sandy Creek.
“That way, cost doesn’t have to be an issue in restoring these riparian zones,” Ortiz said. “We know we can’t keep all the sand from flowing into and downstream, but, by fixing these areas, we can definitely reduce the amount. And it helps keep Sandy Creek healthy.”