Maps_Aggregate Production

Aggregate Production:

Stories of old Texas often tell of travelers mired deep in mud, stranded in rainstorms that washed through unpaved streets and roads, leaving produce, livestock, mail, and passengers well short of their destination. Frustrated, the Texas Farmer’s Congress pushed for state control of roads in 1902, and the Texas Democratic Party followed suit by including a state roads network in its political platform. A lobbying group, the Texas Good Roads Association, was established in 1903 to further press the cause. Government began to respond: in 1905, the State Legislature created the Office of Public Roads, and Congress’ passage of the Federal Aid Road Act led to the Texas Highway Department in 1917.

These private, state and federal moves were the start of a major, multi-decade campaign in Texas to build roads – including many hard-surface, multi-lane, high-speed routes – throughout the state. With these new roads, the convenience, ease, safety, and commercial benefits of travel have boomed in Texas.

However, as the network of roads (Texas state and federal routes tally over 80,000 miles in length!), parking lots, airstrips, and other hard surfaces has grown, the downside of this paving boom has become more evident (Legislative Budget Board 2014, p. 489). One problem has certainly been the state’s many aggregate strip mines that supplied the required sand, gravel, and stone. To help you picture this impact, this map shows over 1140 active and expired aggregate strip mines in Texas (some over 2000 acres in size, and as deep as 275 feet) (TCEQ 2017; TXDOT 2009).

These quarries can cause a variety of serious environmental problems, including the loss of farmland, and flood runoff and non-point source pollution from broken dikes. Unfortunately, there is not as much effort to mitigate those impacts as might be hoped. In 1975, the Texas Legislature chose not to require reclamation after mining aggregates, unlike most of its sister states (Interstate Mining Compact Commission 2013; TAC § 342; Lowerre 2017; Tex. S.B. 66, 64th Leg., R.S.). As a result, the strip-mined land, including its vegetation, soil, and general topography, has been damaged and slow to restore to a productive level.


An Act Relating to the Control and Regulation of Exploration for and Surface Mining of Minerals. Tex. S.B. 66, 64th Leg., R.S. (1975).

An Act Relating to the Regulation of Certain Aggregate Production Operations. Texas H.B. 571, 82nd Leg., R.S. (2011).

Herrington, Chris. 2017. Manager, Water Resource Evaluation Section, Watershed Protection Division, City of Austin. Personal communication, 31 January 2017.

Interstate Mining Compact Commission. 2013. IMCC Noncoal Minerals Questionnaire.

Legislative Budget Board. 2014. Fiscal Size-Up: 2014-15 Biennium. Legislative Budget Board. Austin, Texas.

Lowerre, Rick. 2017. Attorney. Personal communication, 23 January 2017.

Regulation of Certain Aggregate Production Operations. Texas Administrative Code, Title 30, Part 1, Chapter 342.

Texas Aggregate Quarry and Pit Safety Act. Natural Resources Code, Section 133. Acts 1991, 72nd Leg., ch. 668, Sec. 1, Effective August 26, 1991.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 2017. Water Quality General Permits & Registration Search – Advanced. Accessed January 25, 2017.

Texas Department of Transportation. 2009. Pit_Quarry_Inventory_file. December 7, 2009.


Exotic FishOver the years, the construction of new reservoirs in Texas, the need for biocontrol tools, and the popularity of sport fishing, aquarium hobbies, and zoo visitation have combined to create a problem with exotic fish in Texas waters. Federal and state agencies have intentionally released a variety of non-native fish, including bigeye lates, grass carp, Nile perch, orangemouth corvina, peacock bass, and tench in order to provide sport fishing opportunities for the public, as well as a means to control “trash” fish and aquatic vegetation. On an ad hoc basis, members of the public have let fish go from aquaria, bait buckets, zoos, and fish farms, including such exotics as goldfish, guppies, green swordtails, redbellied pacus, tiger barbs, bigeye lates, and many others. In some cases, these exotics have outbred and outfed rival native fish, as well as causing problems with algal blooms, oxygen crashes, and introduced parasites.


Map sources:

For this map’s design and its underlying data, we are indebted to Pam Fuller and Matthew Cannister of the USGS and Bob Howells of Texas Parks and Wildlife.


Selected references:

Fuller, P.L., L.G. Nico, and J.D. Williams. 1999. Nonindigenous Fishes Introduced into Inland Waters of the United States. Special Publication 27. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, Maryland.

Howells, R.G. 1992. Annotated List of Introduced Non-Native Fishes, Mollusks, Crustaceans and Aquatic Plants in Texas Waters. Management Data Series, No. 78. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Inland Fisheries Branch. Austin, Texas

Howells, R.G. and G.P. Garrett. 1992. Status of some Exotic Sport Fishes in Texas Waters. Texas Journal of Science 44(3): 317-324.

Howells, R.G. 2001. Introduced Non-Native Fishes and Shellfishes in Texas Waters: An Updated List and Discussion. Management Data Series, No. 188. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Inland Fisheries Branch. Austin, Texas.


Playa Lakes

The American High Plains are marked by up to 30,000 small, shallow ephemeral ponds, or playas, scooped out by wind erosion. Many, perhaps 18,000, are found in the Texas Panhandle (the map here shows their high concentration in the state, marked in orange and red). There, they provide a key home for over 185 kinds of birds, including a million migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds that pass through each year.

However, the vast majority of the playa lakes in the Panhandle are in agricultural areas, and have been altered to support farming and other uses. Some estimates hold that 40% of the playas have been cultivated and 70% have been dug out, or “pitted” to collect irrigation water. Others collect wastewater from sewage treatment plants or runoff from farmfields or animal feeding operations.

The Clean Water Act has provided some defense for these wetlands, but recent judicial rulings have put those protections in doubt. Increasingly, it appears that securing a sustainable future for playas will rely more on incentives, such as those under the Farm Bill, and on private sector interest in alternatives to intensive agriculture, including wind energy, hunting, birding and other forms of ecotourism.


Kenneth Seyffert recalls the rich bird habitat that playas provide, including the locale for his rare sighting of a Wilson’s Phalarope

Map sources:This map was produced based on research compiled by the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, drawing on work from the U.S. Geological Survey, Texas Tech University, and other partners. We owe particular thanks to Megan McLachlan, Ty Guthrie, and Lucia Barbato.

Selected references:Haukos, D.A. and L.M. Smith. 2003. “Past and Future Impacts of Wetland Regulations on Playa Ecology in the Southern Great Plains”, in Wetlands, Vol. 23, No. 3.

Johnson, L., D. Haukos, L. Smith, and S. McMurry. 2011. “Loss of Playa Wetlands Caused by Reclassification and Remapping of Hydric Soils on the Southern High Plains”, in Wetlands, Vol. 31, No. 3.

Smith, L.M. 2003. Playas of the Great Plains. University of Texas Press. Austin.

Tsai, J., L. Venne, S. McMurry, and L. Smith. 2010. “Vegetation and Land Use Impact on Water Loss Rate in Playas of the Southern High Plains”, in Wetlands, Vol. 30, No. 6.