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2014-04-03

Meet BCRAGD's young scientists

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Whether you see them in the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District office, or out and about the county, at educational programs or meetings of water groups, BCRAGD's youngest staffers bring a wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm and creativity to their jobs. In the next two weeks, we'll introduce you to full-timers Morgen Ayers and Michael Redman, and part time workers Prari Blair, Kayla Rohrbach, and Sarah Schlessinger.
Supervising and assisting these staffers are General Manager David Mauk, Assistant General Manager Roy Chancy, Field Tech-Well Inspector Jay McEwan, and Hydro-geologist David Jeffery.
Morgen Ayers is the district's Watershed Protection Coordinator. That means she is responsible for collecting water samples from both surface and ground water in Bandera County, testing the samples, compiling the data and compiling reports based on that data. Her primary focus is the quality of surface water.
She also serves on the district's teams for education and community outreach, aquifer science and regulatory compliance.
Ayers graduated from West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science with a minor in Spanish. "I'm a native Texan," she said, "but my dad was a pipeliner, and we moved around a lot, so I don't really have a hometown."
When Ayers collects surface water samples in the field, she brings them back to headquarters to filter, incubate and count the bacteria present. "We report the counts to the paper to keep the public informed," she said. If something really serious pops up in the testing, she investigates further to determine the cause.
"We might have to post notices warning people not to swim or drink the water," she said.
She also actively participates in conjunction with the San Antonio River Authority in the Clean Rivers Program, a basin project under the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
BCRAGD does groundwater testing for local residents by testing well water samples. "We test for e coli and other coliform bacteria, and we also test for mineral content," Ayers said.
Bandera County's groundwater tends to be higher in sulfates and during the drought, "we're seeing an increase in flourides."
Ayers added, "Texas has hard water in general, and Bandera County tends to be higher than the national average."
She has recently entered all the testing data into a program, so she can tell you if your well water quality is average for the county.
"I've been exposed to a lot of different avenues and gained broad-based experience [at BCRAGD]," she said. "We're the only river authority, ground water district and water control and improvement district in the state, which makes my job interesting."
Ayers also researches the invasive cane Arundo donax and maps sites of local outbreaks. "Please call BCRAGD if you spot a clump in the county," she urged.
Michael Redman works with Ayers in the Clean Rivers Program and the in-house sampling. A graduate of Schreiner University in Kerrville with a degree in biology with an environmental track, Redman says his job is "to protect our water, protecting the essence and beauty of our resources." His primary focus at BCRAGD is the groundwater quality.
Redman spent his childhood in the Houston area, but grew up in Johnson City, so he came to the job with a real interest in the Hill Country's natural resources.
As the water district's natural resources coordinator, Redman serves on the regulatory compliance team, water well permitting and registration team, aquifer science team, watershed protection team, and education and community outreach team.
Redman serves as BCRAGD's code enforcement officer and water well permitting coordinator.
"When we find a violation, we send notices to the violator and arrange for the violator to come in and we talk about what needs to be done," said Redman. Many violations are relatively minor and can be quickly corrected. "A lot of things are an easy fix," he said. The biggest challenge in code enforcement is often in locating the violator.
Redman keeps track of well permits issued and violations. "We have made a lot of progress in processing violations and cleaning up the paperwork," he said.
Redman came to BCRAGD as a summer intern three years ago, was hired on a part-time basis in May of 2013 and went full-time in August.
"I like the atmosphere of working here," he said. "I can talk to the boss face to face. And I like being outside a lot."