One Water – Blue Hole Primary School

While COVID-19 dominates headlines in 2020, groundwater protection efforts in the Texas Hill Country are set to realize a tremendous success story when the first One Water school in Texas officially opens its doors for classes this fall!  Blue Hole Primary School will serve the growing Hill Country communities of Wimberley and Woodcreek with one of the most water efficient and cost-effective approaches ever envisioned for a school campus in Texas.

One Water is a water planning and management approach that rethinks how water moves through and is used in a community; it brings stakeholders like developers, community leaders, urban planners, water managers and engineers together with the goal of utilizing water as thoughtfully and efficiently as possible. The school’s One Water design acknowledges the importance of protecting Wimberley’s sensitive water resources by managing all the water as a single resource that is sustainable and reusable. The One Water concept for the school, spearheaded by Nick Dornak, Director of Watershed Services for The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, and David Baker, Director of the Wimberley Valley Water Association (WVWA), was ratified by the Wimberley Independent School District (WISD) Board of Trustees in June 2019 with construction beginning shortly after in July.

Conservation Strategies

Blue Hole Primary School will utilize a variety of One Water strategies to reduce groundwater usage from the Trinity Aquifer by 90 percent when compared to traditional construction standards, thereby protecting groundwater that supplies crystal clear spring flows to Jacob’s Well, Blue Hole and Cypress Creek. It will incorporate best practices such as collecting rainwater and air conditioning condensate to flush toilets and irrigate landscaping and an onsite treatment and reuse system to beneficially reuse gray/black water produced by the school. Additional green stormwater infrastructure will comprise of permeable pavers, vegetated swales and rain gardens to highlight a 21st century approach to managing nonpoint source pollution from new developments. To complete the immersive, educational One Water experience for students, staff, and visitors, features such as clear pipes and signage will be built into the very architecture of Blue Hole Primary.

Impact

Blue Hole Primary School lies within Hays Trinity GCD, which provided a letter of support when the project was first proposed to WISD. “When faced with an ever-expanding population and limited water supply options in Hays County, it is critical that we protect our most valuable resources with an eye towards innovation – based on conservative management. Our healthy economy will require sustainable solutions, and community leaders in Wimberley Valley have taken a giant step in the right direction by instituting One Water practices in the new Blue Hole Primary School,” said Charlie Flatten, General Manager of Hays Trinity GCD.

The new school will not only benefit the environment but will also save money for WISD in the long-term. The district projects that it will save nearly $800,000 over the next 30 years in utilities as less water is being used to operate the school. The money saved can help the district employ additional staff and teachers, while keeping the district less dependent from outside water and energy resources.

Texas’ first One Water school will serve as a model for communities throughout the Texas Hill Country as well as a teaching tool to WISD students about the value of water conservation. The region will face enormous water challenges over the next 100 years and beyond, however Blue Hole Primary School will provide an important reminder that it is possible to balance the challenges of growth with the continued stewardship of our precious water resources.

The project’s proponents would like to acknowledge that WVWA funded the engineering and design of the One Water infrastructure through a generous grant from the Harry L. Willett Foundation. Thanks also to the WISD Board of Trustees and Superintendent, Dwain York for their vision, as well as Joe Day, David Venhuizen, PE, O’Connell Robertson & Associates, Inc., Doucet & Associates, Inc., AGCM, Inc., WISD, WVWA and Meadows Center staff for their expertise and valuable contributions to this project.

Thanks to Nick Dornak for his contributions to this feature.