It is with a sickened heart that I write this letter, in regards to the crimes committed against our community, our state and our precious natural resources by Dustin Garrett and Stephen Howells of Blanco County on July 4th weekend.
Having just elevated Blanco County’s drought stages to level two for the northern half and level three for the southern half, it can be described no less as a bitter bile that sits in the back of my throat over the loss of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that these two men are responsible for deliberately wasting by damaging four fire hydrants in Blanco and Johnson City. Being in the midst of one of the worst droughts in recorded history with high temperatures not seen in 75 years, we must make sacrifices to protect what little water remains in our rivers and aquifers, while we watch our plants wilt, watch our favorite creeks go dry, and hear of our ranching neighbors who must sell off their agriculture-based livelihood, all while we brace ourselves for more of the same. On the heals of this prolonged drought, the massive waste of our precious water is almost too unbearable to even think about, much less have to actually deal with.
As if Dustin and Stephen’s crime against water wasn’t bad enough, it further mystifies and saddens me that Dustin was a volunteer fireman in our county. When I think about the ultimate gift a volunteer could do for a rural community, it is the volunteer fireman in an extended drought. All firemen risk their lives to protect their community – but a volunteer chooses to do it, without monetary compensation, with limited resources, and many times, without acknowledgement. The very real threat that Dustin and Stephen put Blanco County in by their actions could have resulted in severe loss of property – even death - because of lack of available water to put a serious fire out.
As my anger over this situation waned over the weekend, I was left with a sense of desolation over the bigger picture – where have we, as a community of neighbors, friends, educators, ranchers and leaders, failed to pass on to our young, smart people the love the land and the sense of place? These two men had visions of something grander for their lives – civil service through firemen training and the army. But I ask you why, when faced with bored and idle time, did these two young men, rather than serve the community that raised and nurtured them, instead chose to be destructive to it? Even with goals of serving their country, rather than an act of service, they chose an act of destruction, not once, but four times. And not in one town, but two, with a fifteen minute drive in between. From the stand point of the groundwater district, I will work to strengthen rules that are designed to protect the lifeblood of our county: groundwater. I will work alongside the other groundwater district directors, to encourage our citizens to do everything within their power to conserve what water remains. This crime – it can be called nothing else – baffles me. But if there were to be something that could result from this crime, my hope is that it would be the start of a dialogue between all of us: to collectively educate, nurture and protect our youth from bad acts and idle decisions, just as we must protect and nurture our water, so that future generations are far better off tomorrow than they are today.
Colleen S. Gardner
Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater District Director, Pct. 2
Editor’s Note: The Johnson City Record Courier reported that Howells had enlisted in the army; Blanco County News was unable to confirm.