Armed with a fresh round of state funding, the Water Supply Enhancement Program — formerly the Brush Control Program — is ready to approve applications from property owners in specific areas near Lake Brownwood.

 

The program administered through the Pecan Bayou Soil and Water Conservation District here not only helps ranchers open property for forage, but it also is considered a way to boost water flow into streams and reservoirs.

 

Cody York of San Angelo, who works with the program in nine counties, briefed the board of directors of the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 Tuesday.

 

“We’ve just received funding of $210,000 for 2013,” York said.

 

The program reimburses property owners who clear their property at the rate of $210 per acre, an amount calculated to be 70 percent of cost. Landowners pay the difference as long as no more than 5 percent of the area is left as brush.

 

“I think it does increase the flow of water into the watershed on the lake,” water district General Manager Dennis Spinks said of the program. “It’s to the benefit of the landowner who wants to increase forage, and to us. It’s a big improvement for property owners out there. This will improve the watershed, which will improve the level of the lake.”

 

That’s critical to water district officials, who have watched the level of Lake Brownwood plunge to historic lows due to drought over the past two years.

 

York said scientific data on the effects clearing brush like mesquite and cedar, plus other vegetation, is still being gathered. But boots-on-the-ground results of stream-flows being restored after extensive brush control leave no doubt about the benefits.

 

This year’s funding for Brown County will pay for brush control on 1,000 acres, but York said unused dollars budgeted for other areas could possibly be redirected here. Brown County ranked first among 12 areas funded by the state.

 

Eligible property is concentrated in one limited sub-basin, York said, which is generally near the Pecan Bayou north of the lake along Highway 279 and east to U.S. Highway 183. The focus of the program has been reduced over the years to provide the highest enhancement yield.

 

York said a control program that also includes dollars for projects like reseeding is also available through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. Casey Spinks, NRCS soil conservationist in Coleman, and the son of the water district’s general manager, also spoke to the board.

 

“The more people, the better,” York said. “If we use up the money, there’s always next year.” But applicants should not delay. Half of this year’s funding for Brown County may soon be committed.

 

“So far in Brown County, (the program’s) been well received,” York said. “When property owners say they’ll do something, they do it. Sometimes they’ll do even more, and pay for it themselves.”

 

York said the program is what emerged from the former brush control program that underwent a makeover through the state’s Sunset Commission in a previous legislative session. Since 2008, it has spent $1.2 million for brush control projects through the cost-share concept.

 

Project areas are targeted for highest value to stream flow with the assistance of a hydrologist at Texas Tech University, York said.

 

Information about the state water supply enhancement program is available from York at (325) 481-0335, and from officials with the Pecan Bayou Soil and Conservation District. Information about the federal program is available from local NCRS offices.

 

York said sign-up for funding consideration is ongoing. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website, the second ranking period cut-off for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is April 19.