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City-owned water works to provide affordable, clean water

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Comal Springs Conservation Center will begin its five phase project this summer. The 16-acre site was once Klingemann Springs and was the first water work property owned by the City of New Braunfels.

One of the necessities of human survival is availability of water and this need played an essential part in the choosing of the site of New Braunfels for a settlement. Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, commissioner general for the Adelsverein project, became aware that Las Fontanas or The Fountains (Comal Springs) were the biggest of the principal springs along the Balcones Escarpment. These springs had a daily flow of 196 million gallons.

Early settlers carried buckets of water from the springs of Comal Creek and the Comal River for their use. Hermann Seele tells of drawing water out of the river at the foot of San Antonio St. Another source of fresh water from a large spring was at the end of a path leading from Seguin Ave. to the Comal River. The path called “water alley” was located next to the Lindheimer home. The alley was included in the original plans set out for the city. This was one of the springs used primarily until the settlers dug their own wells for water.

With Julius Rennert as mayor of New Braunfels in 1857, the city council first began to investigate the possibility of acquiring a city-owned water works. Aldermen at the time were Julius Eggeling, Jacob Rose, Andreas Eikel, Dr. Wm. Remer, Ferdinand Dietz, Wm. Ludwig, Jacob Langkopf, and Christian Krause. By the way, Jacob Rose was my great-grandfather. A committee was appointed including six citizens to begin the investigation.

When the city council convened on Oct. 18, 1857, a preliminary report was given, but action was tabled. Oscar Haas speculated that this tabling was possibly due to a severe drought which had occurred in 1856 causing crop failures and high prices for food supplies.

Nothing was done about the water issue and in 1861 the Civil War began. Everything came to a standstill during the war, as the emphasis was on war issues. After the war more time could be spent on other problems. In 1880 with the advent of the railroad, people began moving back into town. Some who had moved away during the war, returned. An enterprising spirit entered the picture.

In 1885, the San Marcos Water Works Company made a proposition to the city council to construct a water works and this proposal spurred a renewed interest in looking into a city-owned water works. With Hermann Seele as chairman, the water works committee recommended that a pump be placed on the bank of the Comal River at the site of the New Braunfels Woolen Manufacturing Co. “This pump would be set going by the steam engine of the factory.” The water would be pumped out of the Comal River into a reservoir with a capacity of 700,000 gallons of water. The Woolen Manuf. Co. requested that for every 20,000 of water, the price paid be $1.50. Seven councilmen accepted this proposition and two voted against it. This vote was not acted on and eventually repealed.

Shortly thereafter the owners of the Torrey Manufacturing and Power Co. owned by William Clemens, Julius Runge and Leon Blum offered a new proposal to build the city water works. This proposal was accepted and a contract signed for 25 years. Mayor Giesecke accepted the proposal in the name of the city of New Braunfels.

The city then entered into contract with Gustav Gerlich to supervise the pumping of water and to lay pipes onto private properties. His contract was for six months and he was to be responsible for any faulty work after the construction was finished. A report of the council meeting states that the water works had been in operation with 51 consumer connections since August of 1888.

I asked Roger Biggers with NBU what the pipes were made out of at the very beginning. He said they were most likely made from cypress wood and he had seen one of the old wooden pipes while excavating downtown.

Volunteer fire-fighting companies began organizing due to the availability of water. They practiced regularly and insurance rates were reduced.

At a meeting of the city council on Nov. 5, 1906, based on an inspection of the Comal Head Springs on the Klingemann property, mayor C. A. Jahn told the council that filth had washed into the springs from nearby cattle feed pens and clogged up the springs. However, upon cleaning the area, the springs on the Klingemann place would furnish more water and be the best drinking water. He recommended that the city buy the springs and adjacent property. A committee was appointed to study the feasibility and reported that they did not recommend purchasing it.

Thus, the council decided to bring the issue to a city vote. On Dec. 18,1906, 116 voted to purchase the property and 112 against.

On Feb. 1st, 1907, Fritz Klingemann for $2,500 conveyed to the city of NB, a portion of the Klingemann homestead at the headwaters of the Comal River in Comaltown at the corner of what is now Klingemann and Lakeview.

By 1912 the springs were in full operation and two years later the Herald reported that the new water works system provided the purest water right from the springs and brought it into everybody’s kitchen. The spring water does much to eliminate disease.

In the early 1930s at the onset of the Great Depression, the textile industry was in decline. To provide employment, the city sought to clear out the underbrush and place a wall around the springs to control flow and prevent groundwater contamination. The city obtained assistance through to the Texas Rehabilitation and Relief Commission established under the Federal Emergency Relief Act.

In 1934 two concrete pools were also constructed on the property as part of a fish rearing pond lease. The ponds are gone but some of the 1930s structures are still present on the property as well as rock walls lining the original spring flow area.

By the end of 1936, the spring had also been capped and two drilled wells were in operation on the property. A third well was drilled in December, 1944.

The New Braunfels Utilities began in 1942 as an electric company. In 1959, the company took over the sewer and water systems and in 1960s NBU moved their operations to the water works site.

Although our water supply is no longer taken directly from the headwater springs, some of our water is still taken from the wells on the property. The New Braunfels Utilities still maintains the property and they have a great project to preserve the property and springs.

The Comal Springs Conservation Center project is being sponsored by the NBU aided by the New Braunfels Area Community Foundation. The five-phase project will take approximately five years to complete. From the project brochure: “In keeping with a longstanding commitment to the environment and to the community NBU plans to restore and develop this site into a multi-use facility which enhances the community’s relationship with nature. The development will be a teaching tool which honors the cultural and environmental history of the site and area while encouraging future stewardship of the environment, water and community.” This will include the restoration of the Comal Springs headwaters and transform the 16+ acres of asphalt into native landscape. There will be public facilities and use of historic structures to reconnect the community to its natural water and ecology.

New Braunfels and Comal County are very conservation conscious and this is another example of conservation and restoration.

Fritz and Emilie Karbach Klingemann

Fritz and Emilie Karbach Klingemann