Bad guys are stealing water from our forests, right before our eyes!

Water thieves are afoot. They sneak in from foreign lands while our heads are turned, multiply their numbers to create trouble-making gangs, and refuse to leave. Who are these villains? Invasive plants – out of place, out of control, and gobbling up resources, including our most precious one, water.

By definition, an invasive species is “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee) Invasives lack the natural controls that exist in their own native habitat. As a result, they’re usually fast-growing and rapid reproducers. These bad guys alter the forest in a variety of ways including sucking up A LOT of water.

Because of their heavy water consumption and their prevalence, many are concerned that might actually dry out our forests. Is the problem really that bad? According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, “invasive species are altering large portions of the earth’s terrestrial surface and are considered one of the ‘most important drivers of change in ecosystems.'” Although billions of dollars are being spent to battle invasives in the U.S., the report also predicted rapidly increasing negative effects in the future such as loss of soil health as these water thieves drain up to 250% more moisture than our native vegetation.

Before and after photos showing the invasive vine removal efforts of volunteers.

That battle against invasives is fought locally as The Woodlands Township crews and contractors spend about 200 days a year on vine and invasives removal and control. And for the past three years, volunteer invasives removal task force has joined the fray, with much success. During 2020 alone, nearly 100 volunteers spent 1020 hours removing three dump-truck loads of invasive vines, shrubs, and trees from along our pathways. Their participation freed up the Township’s contractors to work on larger areas of infestation.

Some of the worst crimes of bad guy invasives?

  • Disrupting ecosystem interactions and functions

  • Displacing native species and destroying habitat

  • Using 50% to more than 250% more water than natives

Let’s turn the tables and gang up on these water thieves invading our forest! To start, each of us can examine our own landscapes and kick out the bad guys, replacing them with natives that better serve us. Then help restore the health of forest soils by volunteering to remove invasives from our pathways and green spaces. If you’re ready to join the Task Force, sign up HERE.

For more information, contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-2058.


Learn more about invasives from these past articles:

Our Pet Waste Problem

Man’s best friend is causing a problem that is too big to ignore. With an average waste output of .7 pounds per day, dogs in The Woodlands create about 23 tons of waste daily! Responsible pet owners know the importance of picking up after Fido at the park or along the pathway. But have you ever wondered what happens if you leave it behind?

If you think it’s a natural fertilizer that will decompose with little impact to the environment, just take a look at our contaminated waterways. They tell a different story. According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2020 Basin Report, almost 65 percent of Spring Creek is listed as impaired because of high bacteria levels. The tributaries within the Township that flow into Lake Woodlands and Spring Creek; Upper and Lower Panther Branch Creek, Willow Creek and Bear Branch Creek, are all included on the list of impaired waterways because of bacteria. The truth is, pet waste is endangering the health of our watereways.

The issue

Left on the ground, bacteria, viruses and parasites in dog waste can transfer to humans and animals. A single gram of feces contains over 23 million bacteria, including harmful pathogens like e coli, giardia and salmonella. And you don’t have to step in a pile of waste for it to be a problem. The pathogens live on long after the pile has dissolved, spreading through the soil and eventually into the nearest waterbody (including your favorite fishing spot).

Not all poop is equal

So why is pet waste more harmful than deer or other wildlife scat? According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, waste left behind by wild animals actually benefits the ecosystem because those animals consume resources and nutrients from the ecosystem. Our pets’ diet, while healthy and balanced for them, creates excess nitrogen and phosphorus in their waste that leads to unstable conditions when it enters our waterways. Pet waste also introduces fecal coliform bacteria into waterways and is known to cause serious health problems in humans, like intestinal illness and kidney disorders. These water-born pathogens make it dangerous for swimming and other recreational water activities.

Coyote scat, pictured above with berry seeds, is visibly different from our pet’s waste and reflects the differences between wild and domesticated diets. Resources consumed in the wild are returned to the wild when waste is left behind.

Good news

The solution is simple. Do your ‘doody’ to pick up pet waste and place it in the trash. Bagging pet waste and leaving it behind only delays the inevitable – contamination still occurs once the bag breaks apart, and it creates a litter issue, to boot.

Here’s a simple way to make bagging and tossing your dog’s waste a part of your daily walk: 1) attach a carabiner to the handle of your dog’s leash; 2) hang a plastic grocery bag from the carabiner; 3) place bagged waste into the grocery bag. Voila! A hands-free option for carrying bagged waste to the nearest trash can.

By simply carrying your pet’s waste home, you can prevent contamination in our neighborhoods and waterways. Photo credit: ZKillian

Spread the word

Disposing of your pet’s waste properly is an important first step, but the work doesn’t stop there. Get the message out to your neighbors that putting pet waste in the trash prevents pollution. If you’re a dog owner, model the solution for others. If you’re not a pet owner consider taking action to protect our waterways by joining one of our many volunteer projects.

Volunteers are needed to help install markers on storm drains in your neighborhood. Markers remind residents that anything going in storm drains (dog waste, lawn chemicals, litter) will be washed into a nearby waterway – unfiltered and untreated. To be notified about the next training and volunteering day, email Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov with Storm Drain Project in the subject line.

How a Light Bulb Can Save Water

Yes, a light bulb!

Let’s shine some light on the link between water and energy. The fact is, they’re inseparable. It takes a LOT of energy to capture, treat and deliver water, and 90% of all electricity generation is water intensive. Both of these critical resources are in need of conservation as our local, national and global populations grow. Fortunately, conserving one helps us conserve the other.

Let’s take a deeper dive into this critical relationship…

  1. Energy can’t happen without water: 
  • 15% of all global water withdrawals are for energy production. 
  • In the U.S., freshwater sources provide 40% of the water for power generation. 
  • Freshwater availability varies with weather and climate and is coming under ever-increasing pressure from development. 
  1. Water can’t get to our faucets without energy: 
  • Drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3–4% of all energy use in the United States. 
  • Electricity accounts for 25–40% of the operating cost of a wastewater utility and approximately 80% of drinking water processing and distribution costs. 

This intertwined relationship increases the vulnerability of each; what threatens one, threatens both. We’re all aware of the current drought issues in the western U.S.. We see the images of fires, dried lakes and desiccated crops. Less publicized but equally critical are the constraints being placed on power plants throughout the region. It wasn’t that long ago, 2011-2013, that we experienced similar conditions in our region and they are sure to happen again. Our extreme storms pose another threat to the water-energy nexus, only in reverse. Storm-related power outages place great stress on water facilities, especially treatment facilities. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey left hundreds of communities in southeast Texas without safe drinking water. In total, 45 water systems shut down and 171 areas issued boil water notices. Thankfully, The Woodlands avoided that problem. Let’s hope we’re that lucky next time.

These are large-scale issues that may seem out of our control. Fortunately, they aren’t. The individual actions you and I take each day make a difference. More good news, most water and energy saving actions are simple and easy to do. And they save money, too! Essentially, we get paid to do the right thing.

Make a commitment today to take action and you’ll save water AND energy at the same time.

What a Bright Idea

Are there still incandescent bulbs burning in your home? If so, change them over to LED bulbs. They last longer, burn cooler and use a lot less energy. Here’s a great offer: Stop by the Environmental Services office and ask for a free LED Nightlight, or bring in a burned out incandescent bulb and we’ll give you a 75w equivalent LED light bulb to get you started in transitioning to “water saving” lighting (while supplies last). NO BROKEN BULBS please!

  • Environmental Services
  • 8203 Millennium Forest Drive
  • Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Think Like A Plant: How To Water Effectively With Deep Watering

Here’s a deep thought for you: how a plant is watered is just as important as how much it’s watered. Start watering deeply for more robust and rugged root systems and thriving, happy plants. In this article, we’ll take a closer look into deep watering: its benefits, how to do it, and some other consideration to help make your landscape the best on the block.

What Does It Mean To Water Deeply?

There’s no cut-and-dry definition of a deep watering. Most gardeners generally refer to it as when water has soaked at least eight inches into the soil. This gives plants the structure required to survive lack of water, whether from a drought, a busy gardener, or other environmental stresses.

5 Perks Of Deep Watering

  1. Water gets to where it’s needed most – The majority of a plant’s root system is well below the surface. Deep watering ensures water gets down to the roots instead of lingering at the surface.
  2. Develop strong root systems – Plants that receive frequent watering don’t bother developing strong root systems. Why should they? We’re training their roots to stay near the surface where the water is, leaving them susceptible to stress, especially when we miss a few days of watering. Once water-stressed, it may take weeks for a plant to recover, or it may never fully recover!
  3. Protection during drought – The top of the soil dries out quickly. Delivering the water deeply shields it from evaporation.
  4. Use less water – Deep watering is efficient watering. For most plants and vegetables, one inch delivered once a week is adequate. If your plants act like they need more, you might not be watering deep or often enough.
  5. Save money and time – This one’s a no-brainer.

Watering Deeply How-To

The keys to successful deep watering are simple: infrequently and slowly. But let’s dig a little deeper…

  1. First, check your soil’s moisture. Moisture meters help but your finger will do just fine. Be sure to get eight inches down and near the roots. Does the soil feel dry?
  2. Next, water your plants with a steady and light stream. Fast running water slides off the top of the soil, taking your time and money with it. Clay soil is especially slow at absorbing water so be patient.
  3. Wait 30 minutes for the water to percolate down.
  4. Recheck the moisture level. If the water hasn’t soaked down eight inches, water a little longer.
  5. Wait 30 minutes and recheck the soil.
  6. Once you’ve moistened at least eight inches down, you’re set. Be sure to note the total time it took along with the number of watering cycles and the water flow rate.

Remember To…

Mulch It

Mulch offers a second layer of protection for your plants. It slows evaporation, preserving soil moisture which is especially important for our hot Texas summers. Mulch also deters the spread of garden pests. Check here for tips on effective mulching in our area.

Drip It

Drip irrigation is specifically designed for deep watering. The drip emitter sits at the base of the plant delivering water right to the roots, minimizing evaporation and eliminating runoff. Installing a drip system is easier and cheaper than you might think and it allows you to vary the amount of water each plant receives, ensuring each one gets just the right amount. If you’re new to drip, check out this Environmental Services blog for an introduction.

Plant Native

Native plants and wildflowers are accustomed to drought situations, so they’re naturally inclined to grow longer roots and be more resilient. To really save water and money, choose native plants whenever you can and you’ll have significantly fewer struggles in the garden and landscape.

Go Deep

Deep watering is a game changer. In our hot, demanding climate, proper watering technique is a make-or-break, especially during prolonged dry periods. Save water and save your plants this summer.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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