Whether it’s giving tips for at home water conservation or showing examples of native plants, the Upper Guadalupe River Authority is dedicated to showing people how they can landscape their home.
That is made possible through a project called an eduscape, which is a pathway along the grounds of the UGRA campus.
“The UGRA board thought the grounds needed beatification, and that was the starting point,” said Diane McMahon, UGRA board member and member of the Hill Country Texas Master Gardeners. “We soon realized we had the opportunity to make an educational project out of it as well.”
It shows several examples of water conservation and rainwater detention practices, including terracing, dry creeks, water catching devices and rain gardens.
It also highlights several different kinds of pervious surfaces that can be used for yard walkways.
“It’s a demonstration to show people what they can do working with nature instead of against nature,” McMahon said.
A tour of the eduscape is free and open to the public.
“We want as many people as possible to learn from it,” McMahon said. “So as a principle, we didn’t want to charge anything for it.”
The project started in late 2017, and has been open to the public for less than a year.
“Last year was the big infrastructure undertaking of the project — with re-sculpting, getting the basics in and planting,” McMahon said.
That year, UGRA installed water collection systems capable of storing 30,000 gallons, said Ray Buck, executive director.
By storing rain water or finding ways to filter it through, it reduces runoff that would later end up in the river, he said.
Pam Umstead, who is also a member of the Hill Country Texas Master Gardeners, was one of the people who led the landscaping part of the project.
“The difference in this project from any other project you would do is that we wanted to incorporate as many water conservation elements as we could,” she said. “Normally, you don’t put the whole kitchen sink in there. But we got to do it all — to show something that anybody can use in their landscape.”
A challenge was trying to find a way to stop water from running off a 20-foot slope on the property, she said.
“If the water runs straight down as it was doing before, it doesn’t get filtered, doesn’t do the plants much good, and picks up pollutants on the way,” Umstead said. “So it’s all bad for the creeks and river.”
But by using a technique called terracing that dams the slope, the water has time to soak into the grass, which benefits plants and filters the water.
With rain water storage tanks, the eduscape catches about two thirds of water that ends up on UGRA’s roof, which goes back into the irrigation system.
The tank also catches air conditioner condensate, Umstead.
The eduscape is filled with 1,000 plants, which are all native or adaptive and four varieties of turf grass.
“It’s healthier for the wildlife,” she said.
It’s a certified wildlife habitat and monarch waystation, she said.
In addition to helping wildlife, using plants that are easily accessible in the Hill Country shows people how they look planted in a garden, Buck said.
“You see what they look like in the ground, versus having to go to a shelf at Home Depot or wherever you go to buy plants,” he said.
Recently, UGRA received the 2018 Texas Rain Catcher Award, which is given out by the Texas Water Development Board for its efforts with the eduscape.
“Water conservation is an essential component of water supply management. Not only does water conservation extend current supplies, it postpones costly projects to develop new supplies,” Buck said.
The group is proud of the result of their labors, which is about a year and a half in the making.
“When people see it, we get amazing comments,” Umstead said. “Some of it, they’re discovering new plants that are good for the area. A lot of it new water catchment concepts they aren’t familiar with and they realize they can actually do it.”