Protecting Hill Country Creeks and Streams – Interning with Save Barton Creek Association

Written by Ria Agarwal

In my search for an internship with a local environmental nonprofit this summer, I was lucky to be connected to Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA). The organization was founded with a mission of protecting Barton Creek and the Edward’s Aquifer. Their work was largely focused around the Austin area and Barton Creek, in particular. More recently, however, they have been working to establish protections for creeks and streams around the Hill Country through a combination of efforts in the areas of advocacy and education, as well as through their partnerships with other organizations in the area.

Sculpture Falls at the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Photo Credit: SBCA https://savebartoncreek.org/

SBCA has an interesting and unique history as an organization and has also evolved significantly in recent years. As they expand the breadth of their work, they forge and strengthen connections with the land and water around Texas and the organizations working to protect it. SBCA hires internships in several categories – usually either environmental policy or outreach and fundraising. My internship this summer ended up not falling squarely into either category, but rather was a combination of both, and ended up being largely project based.

My supervisors have been really wonderful about helping my find projects to work on that interest me. In my very first interview with Executive Director (and St. Edward’s alumna!) Sydney Garcia, we spent a great deal of time discussing SBCA’s current projects and determining if they were of any interest to me. When I attended my first staff meeting, I was encouraged to express my goals and interests, and the team helped me to find several projects that I would be interested in working on. Because of my interest in policy work, they assigned several projects to me which were focused in policymaking at the local level, as well as projects they hope to affect change within the state legislature and at state-wide agencies. I have been able to conduct research on zero-discharge wastewater systems in use around Austin and Texas, and I have helped to plan educational events for the public about protecting pristine Hill Country streams. I have also attended meetings organized by other organizations discussing the process for adaptation and implementation of a citywide parkland ordinance for commercial developers, and strategic plans for conservation-focused coalitions of nonprofits around the city. I have also been attending and taking notes for the No Dumping Sewage coalition, which SBCA’s Advocacy Director, Brian Zabcik has been organizing and leading, in which we discuss policy and advocacy-focused strategies for protecting creeks and streams around Central Texas.

Not a photo of me, but my husband and puppy joining SBCA on an early morning hike at the Barton Creek Greenbelt!

Another of the aspects of this internship that I really appreciate is that there is no standard day-to-day. While I have regular duties and responsibilities including attending regular staff, board, and committee meetings, taking notes, and posting about events, I also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of actives, events, and meetings around the city, many of them outdoors.Barton Creek hosts monthly hikes on different trails, sometimes in collaboration with other businesses and organizations (there is a full moon night hike coming up later this month, for instance!) which I have been able to attend and help host. Sydney has also included me in meetings and events at other beautiful places like Blue Hole in Wimberley and the Zilker Botanical Gardens. There is always work to be done, but every day with SBCA looks a little bit different.

Sydney Garcia, Executive Director at SBCA, talking about the geology of Barton Creek during a hike.

I have also received a significant amount of personal and professional guidance from the staff and board at SBCA which has been very meaningful to me. Whether that means passing along job postings, making connections to individuals and organizations working in areas that are interesting to me, or just passing along advice for the future, I have been truly lucky to learn so much from SBCA.


Ria Agarwal

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