Headwaters of the Comal Preview Day
The public is invited to preview results of Phase 2 of the 16-acre Headwaters of the Comal project in New Braunfels from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16 — not Dec. 9 as planned. Weather delay due to snow.
The event is free and children are welcome.
Short introductory talks are scheduled at the Pavilion at 10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. Archaeologists will be on hand throughout the day to answer questions and talk about their findings.
The site is located on the banks of Comal Springs and Blieders Creek on the former New Braunfels Utilities (NBU) Warehouse property.
NBU officially broke ground for Headwaters of the Comal in August 2016 with the goal of restoring the 16-acre property to its natural environment. The utility describes Comal Springs as “the heart and soul” of New Braunfels, saying rejuvenation of the springs will allow residents to learn, have fun and experience history and nature.
The project highlights the hydrological, environmental and cultural history of the region, and is expected to serve as a living demonstration of sustainable practices nationwide.
Headwaters of the Comal includes a large event area, various meeting areas for communal use, and a number of outdoor venues that align with the project’s educational and ecological mission.
Project amenities include a central courtyard, event lawn, display gardens, walking trails, outdoor classrooms, natural spring overlooks, wastewater treatments wetlands and composting facilities. An 8,000 square foot “Living Building” features native plant trellises serving as exterior walls.
Plant grouping will evoke regional typologies while introducing berms and bioswales filter that cleanse stormwater before returning it to the creek.
- Removing 85 percent of the impervious cover currently on the property
- Uncapping and restoring the spring
- Restoring natural riparian habitats for numerous endangered and threatened species
- Removing invasive species and restoring native plant communities
Commitment to Sustainability
- Reuse of existing structures and materials on the site
- Capturing stormwater vis cisterns and using it for irrigation
- Innovative treatments for purifying and reusing gray water, black water and rain water without the use of chemicals
- Reduction of energy usage compared to existing New Braunfels Utility buildings
- Tracking systems to measure the effectiveness of each technology and major building system
- Recycling and waste-management pans for operational use
- Demonstration ares for commercial-and-residential conversation techniques and technologies including HVAC and lighting technology, irrigation systems, plant selection and use of natural ventilation and daylight
- Courtyard demonstrating LID principles with drought-tolerant plant selection and use of natural ventilation and daylight
- An 8,000 square-foot “Living Building” incorporating adaptive reuse of existing structures, and exterior walls made of plants that support pollinators and provide stunning color throughout the year. A water feature uses rainwater collected from the building, and constructed wetland cells demonstrate how wetlands cleanse and filter water
- Picnic area with permeable walkways and natural shading
- Outdoor classroom (2,800 square feet) and multi-purpose building (9,000 square feet) available for community use
Project Costs and Deadlines
Lifetime project cost is $22.9 million. Some $11.5 million of this is reimbursable through grants and donations.
Phase 1, which included spring and landscape restoration, run site utilities, spring run observations areas and construction of an outdoor classroom, cost $6 million, ended in fiscal year 2017.
Phase 2 kicks off in with 2018 with building construction, which will cost $13.45 million. Anticipation completion is 2020. Phase 3 is scheduled for completion in fiscal year 2021.
The project is spearheaded by New Braunfels Utilities, which performs extensive due diligence. A partnership was established with New Braunfels Area Community Foundation. An design team conducted archeological and historical surveys. U.S. Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Historical Commission and other regulatory bodies ensured proper permitting and design requirements were met.
Serving on the planning, development and construction team are
- Lake Flato, a national leader in master planning and design of visitor centers
- Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, a recognized leader in the field of sustainability for site design
- Biohabitats, a national leader in water master planning, rainwater harvest and reuse, and black water treatments
- Ecosystem Design Group of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, trained in optimizing ecological, environmental and sociological function of landscapes
- New Braunfels Area Community Foundation, partner to provide 501(c)(3) resource for donors.
Headwaters of the Comal lies at the start of the Balcones Escarpment, also known as Texas Hill Country. It marks the end of the coastal prairie and is part of the transition zone of the 100th meridian, separating the wetter and drier parts of North America — which is why New Braunfels/Canyon Lake area moves readily from periods of drouth to abundant rainfall.
Comal Springs are the largest in Texas and the American southwest. Seven major springs and dozens of smaller ones occur over a distance of 4,3000 feet at the base of a steep limestone bluff in Landa Park.
In Spanish, Comal is a flat griddle used for cooking tortillas, so the name probably refers to the flat area below the bluff where the springs issue forth. The largest and most easily visited is just west of Landa Park drive.
Comal River is the shortest in the United States and rises entirely, except after major rains, from springs in the vicinity. It flows for just over two miles through Landa Park and New Braunfels before confluencing with the Guadalupe River.
History of the Site
The original site possessed fine, high-quality sedimentary rock for fashioning stone tools. The Comal River and surrounding springs provided pure water, lush vegetation and abundance of game that attracted native tribes as far back at 10,000 years.
According to EdwardsAquifer.net/comal.html, When Spanish missionaries arrived in 1691 they found a huge concentration of Native Americans at Comal Springs, some from as far away as New Mexico. In 1716, Juan Espinoza wrote:
“The waters of the Guadalupe are clear, crystal and so abundant that it seemed almost incredible to us that its source arose so near. Composing this river are three principal springs of water which, together with other smaller ones, unite as soon as they begin to flow. There the growth of the walnut trees competes with the poplars. All are crowned by the wild grapevines, which climb up their trunks. Willow trees beautified the region of this river with their luxuriant foliage, and there was a great variety of plants. It makes a delightful grove for recreation, and the enjoyment of the melodious songs of different birds. Ticks molested us, attaching themselves to our skin.”
The principal springs he describes were probably the two large and one moderately large spring on the west end of Landa Lake. The Spanish never established a permanent presence, although an early Spanish mission, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, was located there from 1756 to 1758. In 1827, the headwaters and springs were granted to Juan Martin de Veramendi, Mexican governor of Coahulla and Texas.
In 1844, German settlers arriving in Texas discovered they’d been deceived about the suitability and ownership of the Hill Country tract promised them. In San Antonio, New Braunfels founder Prince Carl Solms was informed by Texan John Rahm of Las Fontanas, a place where huge natural springs formed a perpetually flowing rivers.
With immigrants living in deadly conditions along the coast and thousands more expected, a frantic Solms was piloted by Captain Jack Hays of Texas Rangers to Las Fontanas, where in March 1845 he purchased the site from Veramendi’s heirs for $1,111.
In 1847, William H. Merriweather purchased Comal Springs tract and built a saw and grist mill and a cotton gin. His slaves dug a millrace to divert water for power, and the springs were dynamited to increase their discharge.
Johann Heinrich Klingemann, who immigrated with his family from Hanover, Germany, purchased the land surrounding the uppermost three springs of the Comal River. They were known by the locals at Klingemann Springs.
New Braunfels relied on the Comal River for its water supply, pumping it out from the river near Clemens Dam. However, textile mills and growth of the city began polluting the river around the turn of the last century. New Braunfels turned to cleaner sources upstream.
When Friedrich “Fritz” Henrich Klingemann inherited his family property, he offered to sell it to the city in 1906 for $2,000. The council initially rejected the offer, saying the price was too high for an “alligator” swamp. However, they purchased the land for $2,500 in 1907 and added new water lines and a pump — founding the city’s new waterworks.
Federal funding in 1933 allowed New Braunfels to “wall up” or cap the springs to help control flow, clear out underbrush, and construct new buildings. In 1936, Texas’ health department recommended the city incase with concrete its main spring water supply at the pumping plant to eliminate possibility of contamination from surface waters.
Later that year, the spring was capped and two stone-and-concrete buildings were constructed to house water pressurization equipment, maintenance facilities and a medical foundry. The rock buildings remain on the property today. At least two wells were in operation at this time, with a third drilled in December, 1944.
City waterworks were turned over to New Braunfels Utilities (NBU) in 1959 and operations were moved to the Klingemann property in the 1960s. In 2004, utilities moved their water and electric operations, along with other departments, to its new location on FM 306.