Loss of the Concho’s

“We caught many catfish, sun perch and trout. At the time the North Concho was very large and deep. Many live mussel shells crawled around on the flat surface bank, dropping off into the river when anyone approached the bank.” Edna Allison ‘Milling Around Sterling County’ 1911 era. This memory of the North Concho River just south of Sterling City is a sad statement as to the current condition of the river. The river was named Concho by Spanish explorers, because of the numerous mussel shells found. The Spanish word concho is interpreted to be shell in English. As a young boy in the late 1950’s and early 60’s I found numerous mussel shells along the river, but never any live mussels. Today one must search to find a single remaining shell and the river is only a remnant of what it once was. Dry in many areas with a few clear pools of water, running a small stream during wet spells-mainly in the winter. Still a beautiful river when looking at the areas of clear live water, though wide and muddy when big rains come.

‘Milling Around Sterling County’ a history of the settlement of Sterling County was published in 1976 and is currently being updated after close to fifty years of new history taking place. Wouldn’t it be wonderful after the next fifty years if a third book were to be published telling of the North Concho once again being ‘large and deep’. The knowledge as to what caused the river to ‘dry up’ is now understood, as the loss of the dense cover of vibrant grasses and forbs has been lost and the water cycle no longer works as it once did. Yes, the increase in brush has added to the loss of the water cycle effectiveness, but it is only an ’effect’ of the loss of cover and healthy soils that is the ‘cause’. It is also understood by some that proper grazing management can overcome this lack of cover and healthy plants allowing that water cycle to become an effective provider of water to the aquifer once again. Yes, many other factors, including the many water wells that draw on the aquifer that once provided the beautiful fish and mussel filled river with water, are a contributing factor and always will be.

It is but a dream, but dreams can come true with sharing of knowledge, diligence of labor and love of the land. Fifty years from now Sterling County could be looking at struggling to have any water and the wells that now provide that high quality water could produce little to none.   An unlikely thought? While fishing on the North Concho watching the mussels get away from her, Miss Allison probably didn’t dream, at some time in the future, the ‘conchos’ on the river could not be found.


Engleman Daisy, having been grazed short during the last grazing cycle in the fall. Is beginning to show recovery from the current rest period.

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