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Andrew Sansom

To Preserve and Protect Our Rivers

As a research professor of geography at Texas State University-San Marcos and the executive director of its River Systems Institute, Andrew Sansom is one of the state's leading conservationists, and an ardent advocate for preserving and protecting Texas waterways. In a state so big that some regions have plentiful water and others almost none, he clearly has his work cut out for him. Just as clearly, he's up to the task.

"We've already committed — for use — more water from our rivers and streams than is actually in them," Sansom warns, as a way of pointing out the urgency of water issues. "We face a future in Texas in which rivers that we identify with Texas, like the Guadalupe, could literally dry up."

"I'm an optimist," he adds, "and I have a sufficient belief in human ingenuity that I believe we will find a way to address this crisis — and it is a crisis. But we must start now. We must invest more in it. And, we must become convinced as a society that it is a very serious issue that we cannot afford to ignore." That's where Texas State University's River Systems Institute comes in.

Established in 2002 and located on the banks of the San Marcos River headwaters, the RSI engages in collaborative research, public advocacy and education on the state's river systems. Its staff works with the City of San Marcos and Hays County to create a master plan for the headwaters, and with the Army Corps of Engineers to enhance and protect San Marcos Springs; manages several million dollars of research funds yearly; educates more than 100,000 annual visitors through programs of its Aquarena Center; holds conferences focusing on water issues; and publishes a series of books on state water systems.

Among specific projects and research initiatives, the River Systems Institute partners with a Mexican university and others to create an integrated, ecosystem-based, binational water resources management plan for the Rio Grande basin, and collaborates with the Nature Conservancy of Texas to conceive and implement conservation plans for the Pedernales and Brazos rivers. RSI researchers study the impact of global warming, population booms and urban sprawl on future water supplies. Its Texas Watch program marshals about 2000 volunteers who take samples from rivers all over the state, which they catalog and send to a central computer system for analysis; in effect, it's a water-quality early warning system.

Sansom's childhood passion for nature, fishing and exploring the outdoors led him to study parks and recreation administration in college, and to work for environmental nonprofit groups. This was followed by stints as director of the Texas Nature Conservancy and of Texas Parks and Wildlife. Then he took his concerns to the university, where the River Systems Institute serves to integrate various disciplines and research centers involved with water management issues. Our ultimate goal, Samson says is to make sure we have enough water for the future and to make sure the environment is taken care of at the same time.