A Natural Infrastructure Plan for the Hill Country

Last week, the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network announced its new Land, Water, Sky, and Natural Infrastructure Plan—a collaborative document that defines the critical natural infrastructure systems of the Hill Country and lays out a vision for greater investment to support those systems. 

The Texas Hill Country is an area of the state that is facing exceptionally rapid levels of population growth. The 2020 U.S. Census indicated that the Hill Country had two of the top ten fastest-growing counties by absolute numbers: Bexar County and Travis County. It's also facing the widespread effects of changing climate patterns, particularly extreme droughts, floods, and temperatures. The combination of developing previously untouched lands and these increasingly dangerous climate issues make conserving the natural infrastructure of the Hill Country more important than ever.

Natural infrastructure uses, restores, or emulates natural ecological, geological, or physical processes. This can include everything from natural woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands to manmade parks and rain gardens. When properly protected and cultivated, natural infrastructure provides irreplaceable benefits to the environment, economy, and community health.

The purpose of the Plan is to act as a living, flexible document that changes with the Hill Country itself. It sheds light on the inequities of availability to natural infrastructure and clean air, land, and water across racial, socioeconomic, and rural/urban divides. When creating the document, collaborators made a decisive effort to reach out to communities of all kinds with surveys, open houses, interviews, and focus groups to make sure the Plan represents the best interests of all Hill Country residents. In one survey conducted of over 2,800 Hill Country residents, nearly 85% of respondents said they would support increasing public funding for conservation. Public funding has been proven to be one of the most effective and reliable investments in conservation.

The stated objectives of the Plan are to:

  1. Accelerate the pace of conservation through permanent protection of important lands and waters.
  2. Actively support conservation-based stewardship of thousands more acres of working lands through outreach, technical and financial assistance to landowners.
  3. Use additional strategies to expand and deepen focus on protecting water resources.
  4. Advocate for policies, including night sky ordinances, that support key natural infrastructure priorities.
  5. Expand equitable access to the benefits of natural infrastructure with a focus on public health and climate resilience.
  6. Build support through outreach and education.
  7. Build capacity and deepen engagement through partnerships.
  8. Work to increase funding for investments in natural infrastructure.


Natural Systems are Vital Infrastructure

A central theme throughout the new plan is the reframing of infrastructure to move beyond built systems and include the natural systems that sustain Hill Country communities. From rivers and aquifers that provide our communities drinking water to the rolling hills that provide flood mitigation, these natural features provide vital services and protections throughout the region. The Hill Country Land, Water, Sky, & Natural Infrastructure Plan highlights where protection of these resources is most needed, and identifies opportunities for improving recreational access to nature, mitigating urban heat island impacts, and protecting our precious water resources.

Land, Water, Sky, and Natural Infrastructure Plan

The Plan aims to provide data-driven solutions and priorities for conserving natural resources within the Texas Hill Country and includes a written report, maps, and recommendations for a path forward. The development of the Natural Infrastructure Plan drew from the feedback of thousands of Central Texans, including natural resource professionals, residents, elected officials and landowners within the region. 

Click here to view and download the plan.

Key Takeaways

  • There is enormous support across Hill Country communities for greater investment in the region’s land, water, sky, and natural infrastructure. 
  • The Hill Country’s land, water, and sky are deeply interconnected and are all part of the region’s natural infrastructure. 
  • Natural infrastructure sustains communities and economies and is as important as built infrastructure. 
  • Natural infrastructure is critical to everyone throughout the region’s cities and towns, its working lands, and its most remote natural places. Protecting, maintaining, and optimizing natural infrastructure is the least expensive route to helping communities thrive.
  • The benefits of natural infrastructure are not equally accessible across racial, socioeconomic, and rural/urban divides. It is important to ensure equitable access to the benefits of natural infrastructure and to decision-making about natural infrastructure. 
  • Protecting water is the single greatest natural infrastructure priority for communities across the region.


The Plan Website

Natural infrastructure is the cornerstone of thriving and resilient economies and an essential foundation of community health and safety.

The Hill Country Land, Water, Sky, and Natural Infrastructure Plan was developed with input from thousands of Texans who live, work, and play within the Hill Country. From farmers and ranchers to elected officials, conservation professionals, and residents from big cities and small towns, the Network partners have committed to not ending our engagement efforts with the publication of this report – community outreach will continue in the coming months and years. To learn more about the plan, how it was written and how it's being used, visit the dedicated website at https://ourtxhillcountry.org/.

NRI is proud to have contributed to such a valuable strategic conservation effort in both an advisory role and by contributing data from our Texas Land Trends program. The natural infrastructure of the Texas Hill Country provides irreplaceable environmental, health, social, and economic benefits, and a concerted effort is needed to ensure the conservation of this key region’s air, land, and water for the equitable use of all people. The Land, Water, Sky and Natural Infrastructure Plan is just the first step in protecting and conserving these valuable lands.



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