Discover the past, present, and future of the Blanco River
Over 350 million years ago, shallow seas covered the Hill Country, and enormous dinosaurs called sauropods waded across the broad, watery expanse, leaving tracks in the sea floor. Their footprints still survive millennia later, as compacted sediment and calciferous sea life turned the sea floor to pale white limestone. A river eventually formed, and when Spanish explorers came upon the riverbed, they named it El Rio Blanco: the white river.
Few people, beyond concerned nature conservationists or invested riverside property owners, have taken the time to learn the river’s history and uncover its secrets, such as how a good portion of the Blanco flows underground and reemerges miles from where it disappeared into the earth. This phenomenon inspired Wes Ferguson, author of The Blanco River, to kayak, hike, and swim from headwaters to mouth to lay bare the river’s hidden truths.
“I realized that my first impression of the river was insufficient,” Wes says. “I would go to the river in Kyle, and during a drought it was totally dry, barren, and uninviting. But six miles upstream, suddenly it’s a beautiful, swiftly flowing country stream. It really piqued my curiosity. I wanted to explore.”
During his research, Wes spoke with property owners, conservationists, and numerous people out enjoying the river. Each had a different perspective on the river’s purpose and fate. Some sought to save it for posterity; others cared more for the entertainment or profit they could derive from it.
It became clear that the Blanco had more than stories of picnics, swimming, and floods to tell. It’s been the epicenter of activity for dinosaurs, missionaries, colonial settlement, and American Indian camps as well as fighting, draft dodgers, property rights disputes, political battles, and corporate greed.
One case of the latter activity occurred in 2015, when Electro Purification prepared to drill in an unregulated area to drain the Blanco of 5 million gallons of water daily. That’s half a million gallons more than the Blanco’s peak daily flow. Wimberley residents’ wells would have gone dry. “The existence of the river was at stake,” Wes says. “It looked like politicians were going to allow it to go dry and die. Yet there was such an outpouring of grassroots support for the river. Eventually our leaders heard them.”
The state legislature ultimately passed a bill to expand the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District boundaries, protecting the Blanco, Jacob’s Well, and residents’ water wells—for now.
The influx of newcomers brings an increased demand for land, new construction, and water, which takes a toll on the Blanco River, considering it serves as the water supply for thousands of residents and businesses, as well as a leisure and recreation area.
Surprisingly, it’s also the reason a favorite Austin swimming spot never goes dry. “Where the river goes underground, it winds its way to Barton Springs,” Wes explains. “Everyone loves Barton Springs. It’s one of the most beloved swimming pools in Texas, maybe even the nation. To think that during times of drought, the Blanco River is the only thing keeping it going is remarkable.”
The Blanco River is 87 miles long, with a story hidden around every bend. Until now, it has weathered everything people and nature have thrown at it, changing but ever-present. But will it continue to endure?
“If the river does go away . . . if it goes dry, and this book is more like an obituary for the river, that would be tragic,” says Wes. His words are part lament and part warning.
Wes Ferguson is an avid outdoorsman and nature enthusiast. He hopes The Blanco River will imbue readers with a newfound respect for and understanding of the river. For more information on Wes or The Blanco River, please visit www.wesferguson.net or www.facebook.com/wesferg.