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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

In our quarters, the small talk (and the big talk, too) all seems to start and end in the same place: the weather. More specifically, it coalesces around the rain, and the lack thereof or the prospects thereof.

Thankfully, the recent Memorial Day weekend gave big parts of Texas a much-needed soaking. The Hill Country watersheds upstream of the Highland Lakes received their fair share, nudging up water levels in Lakes Buchanan and Travis a few blessed feet. Strong pulses of river water made their way down to the coast, adding a much-needed infusion of fresh water into the salty bays and estuaries.

Places around Amarillo, Lubbock and San Angelo, which had been nearly Dust Bowl dry, received 4, 6 and, in some cases, as much as 10 inches of rain over the long weekend. Dry and cracked playas suddenly bubbled over. Barren fields bereft of any crops now had enough soil moisture for farmers to risk a planting. And, the ranch country was finally set up to grow some grass and forbs, critical ingredients for the region’s wildlife and livestock.

Alas, a few inches of rain do not a drought-buster make. In the still-parched majority of our state, most of the lakes and reservoirs are still precariously low. So, too, are spring, creek and river flows. Communities like Wichita Falls find themselves teetering on the brink of enacting unprecedented measures to secure critical drinking water supplies for their citizens.

And so we find ourselves heading into the summer peering anxiously toward the fall, hanging on to every new weather report. The question on every fisheries, wildlife and water manager’s mind in the state right now is: Are the conditions out in the Pacific more or less likely to set us up this year for an El Niño event? That infrequent, and rather mercurial, meteorological phenomenon is capable of bestowing abundant moisture come autumn. Rest assured, all appendages are crossed with this writer.

And, so it is, so it has been and so it will be, with a state whose state of things depends heavily on our rain and, therefore, our water.

Fittingly, this issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine focuses on this most precious of elements. As anyone who is concerned with fish and wildlife conservation or outdoor recreation will note, nothing is more central to the mission and work we do than water. It is not the simple dichotomy of sometimes getting too much rain and sometimes getting too little. Water is a much more ecologically, economically and politically nuanced matter that is often complicated and sometimes contentious.

For inland waters, questions surrounding water quantity, quality, allocation, appropriation and availability are an element of almost every facet of our work. And, for coastal systems, the same questions abound there too, along with many others about storms, spills, salinity, sustainability and resilience, just to name a few.

As you will read in the accompanying pages, the work of your agency’s scientists, stewards, rangers, interpreters, educators and officers covers the waterfront, and the watersheds. Whether working to protect the spring flows and rare species of the Edwards Aquifer, ensuring the safety of swimmers, boaters and anglers, building back a coastal park devastated by hurricanes, restoring a prehistoric-looking fish to a fabled East Texas lake, supporting the development of outdoor recreational trails along the waterways of major metropolitan areas or helping balance the competing water demands of cities, industries and the environment, your TPWD is right there in the middle of it.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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