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2014-04-10

Meet BCRAGD's friendly faces

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. Last week, we introduced you to full-timers Morgen Ayers and Michael Redman. This week we'll tell you a little about part time workers Kayla Rohrbach, Prari Blair, 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.
Kayla Rohrbach, BCRAGD's aquatic biologist, graduated from Bandera High School in 2010, and will finish at Schreiner University this May with a bachelor of science degree in biology with an emphasis in cellular biology.
Rohrbach said she had planned to become a doctor, but "realized about halfway through college that I really didn't like hospitals!" Rorhbach got a summer internship at BCRAGD and "I just haven't left!"
Rohrbach works with Morgen Ayers so the two of them are the surface water custodians at BCRAGD.
Rorhbach's job includes serving as field operations team leader, overseeing watershed protection, and acting as a field technician. She participates on the following teams: watershed protection, aquifer science, education and community outreach and regulatory compliance.
Recently Rohrbach has been working on developing a pilot program for individual aquifer storage and recovery systems (ASR). The program will be submitted for grants with the goal of seeing if private landowners will be able to use rainwater catchment systems to pump water into the aquifer through their water wells.
The process is not currently legal in Texas. Rohrbach's pilot program will look at water treatment options for individual well owners. "Putting rainwater into the aquifer would improve our water quality because we have such hard water," she said.
Rohrbach also compiles data and keeps up with research about the invasive weed Arundo donax, a giant water hogging cane that is rapidly spreading in Texas, including Bandera County. "We want to map where it is already in the county and we're looking for funding for that," she said. Anyone spotting an outbreak should contact Rohrbach at the water district offices.
The weed spreads rapidly and cannot be killed by cutting, digging or burning. An herbicidal application has seen some success, but is a multi-year process.
Rohrbach has worked at BCRAGD for two years now and says it has been a big learning experience. "We're always learning something new, and we've made a lot of progress on the Clean Rivers Program," Rohrbach said. "We have a pristine watershed and we want to keep it that way."
Prari Blair serves as BCRAGD's office manager, administrative assistant, human resources manager, finance coordinator and records management coordinator. She participates on the water well permitting and registration team and the education and community outreach team. She is the administrative team leader.
As the office manager, Blair is the voice and face of BCRAGD. She's the one you see when you walk into the office looking for information, a water test, or a permit application. "I get to meet a lot of people and I like to help them if I can."
Mauk says Blair's attention to detail keeps everyone in the office organized.
"I start every day with a giant to-do list," said Blair, "and add to it as the day goes along!"
She works with the other staffers on the Clean Rivers Program where she serves as the quality assurance officer. "I'm just another set of eyes to look at the data and compare it to previous stats."
Blair has held the office manager position for two and a half years now and enjoys the job.
"There are no typical days. Anything can happen," she said. "I've learned a lot at the job and there are lots of opportunities to learn more.
Every quarter Blair prepares all the documents needed by the board of directors in their meeting packets. Those packets generally fill a three-inch ring binder with minutes, financial reports, reports from various committees and from the general manager. Any background information a director might need regarding an agenda item is also compiled by Blair. "Right now I'm working on the district's annual report," she said. The report is a multi-page document that summarizes all of the district's activities and expenditures for the year.
Blair graduated from Schreiner University with a bachelor of arts degree in creative arts with a minor in English. "I learned management skills, public speaking, how to write and edit documents. That's all been useful in this job."
Everybody has a full plate at BCRAGD, Blair said, but she enjoys the challenges, especially the challenges of meeting deadlines.
"And it's important to me that the final product looks good and is accurate," she said.
Sarah Schlessinger joined the staff of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) in March. She will be working part-time as the district's intergovernmental/community relations coordinator. That means she will be serving as the liaison to other government agencies, community groups, stakeholder groups, elected officials, and their staffs. She will work on community educational program development as well as other BCRAGD projects.
The coordinator will also assist the general manager with any interactions with stakeholder groups, committees, government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations such as Regional Water Planning Groups, GMA's, Texas A&M Agri-Extension, Schreiner University, SARA, NRA, BPGCD, HGCD, TAGD, TPWD, TCEQ, the Texas Legislature, EDC, City Council, Commissioners Court, Medina River Protection Fund, and TWDB.
Schlessinger graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York and then earned a master of science degree from Oxford University in England where her thesis was on West Texas groundwater allocations.
Schlessinger's father is Swiss, but her mother hails from Del Rio. "I grew up in seven countries, but I spent every summer in Texas, so my interest in Texas is deeply rooted," she said. Her international upbringing has resulted in a facility in seven languages, which she put to good use at the recent Bandera Water Series seminar where she was overheard chatting in German and Spanish to local residents about water issues.
Having worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with water issues in Africa, South America and Haiti, Schlessinger is intrigued by "how decisions are made, and by who influences those decisions."
She will also work with other staffers to develop project applications for funding by BCRAGD from the state's two billion dollar Proposition 6 funds.