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The Mighty Comal Springs: What they are, how to enjoy them and how to keep them flowing strong

Published Friday, May 10, 2024 10:40am

The second that the clear, cool waters of the Comal River touch your skin, you probably aren't thinking of everything that went into creating that perfect moment. You might not realize that you're floating in water from the largest concentration of naturally occurring freshwater springs in Texas.  Or that you're splashing in the most significant spring system in the Southwest U.S., one that humans have gathered at for least 10,000 years.

You probably won’t be thinking about all the work that goes into creating that perfect moment, or the massive efforts that keep the river fun, flowing, safe and clean. But as we all know, our water resources are precious and the water that comes from the Comal Springs is a resource not only to enjoy, but also to protect and conserve.

Uniquely New Braunfels

If the Comal River is considered the lifeblood of New Braunfels, then the springs are its beating heart.

The Comal River is unique among the Texas waterways in that virtually all of it flows from a cluster of springs. The water bubbles up from the Edwards Aquifer, a vast underground area of limestone formations. The springs form along a fault line that runs from San Antonio through New Braunfels and up to San Marcos. In New Braunfels, the water pushes up against that fault and emerges at the surface through hundreds of springs within the 51 acres of Landa Park, where it forms a lake that feeds the Comal River. Paddleboat rentals allow you to explore the lake and glide over dozens of springs on the lakebed that feed the Comal River.

At just under three miles long, the Comal River is the shortest navigable river in Texas, ending when it converges with the Guadalupe River. Before it gets there, the waters of the Comal serve several important functions.

The springs system is home to four endangered species and eight threatened ones, as well as other wildlife. It’s also one of the city’s most beloved spots for recreation, welcoming up to half-million visitors annually who enjoy the relaxing 72-degree water throughout the summer. Because the Comal River is spring fed, it’s one of the most consistently floatable rivers in Texas.

Spring water also flows into the spring-fed pool at Landa Park Aquatic Complex, creating a natural swimming hole that dates back to the early 1900s. The pool varies in depth, with areas up to 9 feet deep, perfect for splashing down from a rope swing or the two-story-tall Wet Willie Slide. A shallow spot features a play area for younger kids.

Another way to experience the springs is a visit to Headwaters at the Comal. This 16-acre site at the headwaters of the Comal River is being transformed from a former utility yard to a recreation area and education center, all focused on the conservation of the Comal spring system.

Headwaters at the Comal is the nonprofit organization that is transforming the site. Since work began in 2016, the group has replaced five acres of asphalt with an immersive native prairie landscape overlooking the headwaters springs. The master plan for the site includes repurposing an old utility warehouse into an event center with a 200-person multipurpose meeting room, smaller meeting spaces and classrooms.

Today, the site offers outdoor areas to explore, including walking trails, a covered pavilion for events and an overlook. Open six days a week, the center provides programs for all ages, including guided tours, yoga, and classes on a variety of subjects, from conservation to archaeology. 

The center is a love letter of sorts from residents of New Braunfels to the springs that create its one-of-a-kind recreation, beauty, and habitat. New Braunfels Utilities, which previously owned the site, determined that the best use for the land would be to give it back to the community through the nonprofit organization and restore it to its natural state. "It’s the highest and best use for this property,” said Nancy Pappas, executive director of Headwaters at the Comal.

The transformation is already making a big impact on the river. Now a restored prairie, native plants, and grasses cleanse stormwater on its way back into the springs. When complete, improvements will reduce more than 94 percent of the pollutants that are used to enter the headwaters from the site. “We’re demonstrating some emerging technologies in water conservation and showing how people can be better stewards of their water both in their homes and businesses and buildings overall,” Pappas said.


Protecting the river and spring systems is a year-round job for Amy Niles, River and Watershed Manager for the City of New Braunfels. That includes managing the watershed, an expanse of land that encompasses the entire city of New Braunfels, where runoff water eventually ends up in the city’s rivers. For example, her team works with construction sites and neighborhoods to make sure that pollutants are not discharged into the watershed.

“Because the entire city is located in the watershed that feeds into the city’s rivers, whatever ends up on the ground eventually ends up in the river system,” Niles said.

The city has entered into a watershed protection plan to protect the Comal’s water quality. Testing shows the majority of bacteria in the rivers comes from animal waste. Since 2018, the city has worked to create awareness in the community about the hazards of feeding wildlife. By adhering to the city ordinance prohibiting feeding wildlife, we can foster a safer, healthier environment for our community and the local fauna.

Other water conservation measures are in place. At Landa Park Aquatic Complex, a row of trees, grasses and plants lines the edge of the parking lot. The casual observer might not realize it, but this is also a river conservation measure. The landscaping is in the path of stormwater flow, and the plants filter the water so the runoff that flows into the river will be cleaner.

“It’s a huge effort to make sure those springs are healthy and available,” Niles said.

Back at the Headwaters at the Comal, their goal is to recruit help from the public to keep the Comal Springs clean and flowing. Part of that effort is offering tips to reduce water used for landscape irrigation at residences, businesses, and other gathering places.

For example, many people think their lawns should be green year-round, but in this area, lawns are mostly lush and green in winter. “They need to go dormant in the summer – it’s healthier for lawns, better for the environment, and certainly better for the springs,” Pappas said.

The springs continue to flow as they have for thousands of years. In the area, it’s going to take all of us to be engaged and involved and to want to keep the Comal River flowing. It’s up to all of us,” Pappas said.



Ways to keep the Comal flowing strong

Keeping the Comal springs system healthy and flowing is something everyone can help with. These water saving measures have a positive result for the springs and the river as they help keep our river clean.

  • Bring only reusable drink and food containers and avoid foam coolers when swimming, floating, or tubing its crystal-clear waters.
  • Reduce lawn watering.
  • Conserve water in your daily routine.
  • Consider using native plants in landscaping to minimize water use.
  • Remember to clean up after your pets and dispose of their waste properly. It is also important to adhere to the city ordinance prohibiting feeding wildlife.