AUSTIN (KXAN) - By the end of the month, the Austin Water Utility hopes to light 400 acres of land on fire in North Hays County. But to do that, it might need some extra help to keep it under control.
"We need to renew our agreement with the Texas Forest Service soon," said Willy Conrad, manager of the utility's environmental conservation division.
Conrad's team looks over the city's water supply in places that affect the watershed – places like Onion Creek north of Buda.
"The land around that area is overgrown with brush," Conrad said. "We need a controlled burn to take care of that, so we can handle the water there better."
Conrad said it has been about a year since the city has conducted a controlled burn for this purpose, thanks to the dry conditions brought on by extreme drought. Recent rains have open a door for some much-needed maintenance.
His division, which manages 39,000 acres, has two engines, two brush trucks, and 12-20 staff members at its disposal at any given time.
Sometimes that might not be enough, so it enlists TFS to help in these recharge areas – an agreement unlike any other in the state.
"This agreement allows us to provide them with technical expertise when it comes to land management and prescribed burning," said Holly Huffman, TFS spokeswoman.
The deal has been in place for years but recently ran out. At Wednesday's Water and Waste Water Commission meeting, Conrad will present the need for renewal – an item he expects to pass on to the Austin City Council easily.
Beyond TFS, he said his team often partners with the Austin Fire Department and other nearby departments.
"We're fire managers," he said. "We're not firefighters."
The Kyle Fire Department has helped in the past and might pitch in for the controlled burn at the end of the month. Not only does this work clear brush and hopefully prevent the spread of future wildfire, but it provides some necessary training for firefighters.
"When you do a controlled burn, you gain experience," said KFD Chief Glenn Whitaker.
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