Brush Management and Streamflow

In the past, abundant woody growth (brush) was considered to be bad for Central Texas streams and rivers. However, a recent analysis of long-term streamflow for the major rivers in the Edwards Plateau has indicated that baseflows in these rivers has significantly increased since the 1950 drought. Further, recent levels of baseflows (supplied from springs) appear to be about twice as high as they were before the 1950’s drought. These increases have occurred even as woodlands have expanded in the region, probably because the landscape is recovering from historic overgrazing.

The results of this study are important because they clearly demonstrate that how the land and habitat is managed does have a large scale effect on water supplies. That being said, does this new research conflict with earlier studies showing that recharge may be enhanced through brush management?

No. Brush management, where used appropriately and followed up by best management practices is one important means towards land restoration and increased overall capacity for absorbing rainwater. This latest research highlights the fact that land management practices that improve land condition will have a beneficial effect on groundwater recharge. Previous research conducted at the field or small watershed scale suggests that recharge is higher under grasslands than cedar woodlands.

Collectively, this body of research lends support to the argument that large scale land restoration can have long term benefits to groundwater recharge and spring flows at regional scales. Thus, grassland restoration that includes judicious brush management followed by proper grazing management and other treatments such as prescribed fire, represents a good prospect for increased groundwater recharge in the Edwards Plateau.

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