Cities and farmers in Central Texas used to pump groundwater from the Edwards Aquifer much more freely—draining local springs and rivers and depriving several endangered species of a habitat. In the 1990s, the Sierra Club sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on these creatures’ behalf.

As lawsuits dragged on, a drought arrived, and the court called on a young researcher named Todd Votteler to shepherd the aquifer through the crisis. He hastily slapped together a management plan, and somehow, the region pulled through. The litigation created the Edwards Aquifer Authority and spurred San Antonio—then entirely dependent on the aquifer—to diversify its water supply sources.

Read more from Delger Erdenesanaa with Texas Observer here.