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September 19, 2022

Director's Note: World Rivers Day Tribute to Sky Lewey, Nueces River Champion

World Rivers Day is coming up this Sunday, September 25th, and we can't celebrate the rivers of Central Texas without celebrating the life and legacy of Sky Lewey. It feels like an impossible task to capture the meaning of a life like Sky’s in an email. But we decided that not trying at all would be worse than trying and failing.

It was Sky Lewey who first taught me about Hill Country rivers. She showed me how to read the plants and the topography, to understand how both flooding and drought are critical parts of a river’s life cycle. She taught me to see how downed logs and dense vegetation hold a river together, and to look for hinderances to river health. She showed me what good stewardship looks like. It is from her that I learned the importance of curiosity, humility, and awe in approaching the work of river conservation in Central Texas.  

Sky spent her life and career championing the rivers of Texas. She spearheaded restoration projects and fought for legislative change. She wrote books and led riparian field days. And as Sky would tell you, the rivers of Texas need us now more than ever. 

Hill Country rivers—and the creeks and springs that feed them—may feel distant and disconnected to some, but they are the threads that hold us together. They sustain us, tie us to our history, and underpin our connectedness as a region and a state. As over pumping, wastewater discharge, development, and degradation threaten the waters we depend on, it’s important to remember what we stand to lose when our rivers suffer. Our lives, livelihoods, and futures are at stake. 

How did Sky grow her noble dedication to the rivers she loved? Who taught her to leave the river and the land better than she found it? To be fearless in her convictions, to fight back against those who knowingly degrade water quality and quantity? To selflessly share her knowledge with others and give so generously of her passion? 

To quote a friend, mentor, and HCA board member Bill Neiman, “What is your role in all of this?” I hope you’ll be inspired in this week of celebrating rivers, Sky, and the common threads that bind us, to find what your role in benefiting the lands and waters of our region.

In Sky's own words

"Fighting to protect water quality in Texas Hill Country waterways is nothing new. I had the privilege to watch, learn from, and help my parents back in the early 1980s as they raised awareness and organized opposition to keep wastewater out of the Nueces River...

I have spent the past 22 years deeply engaged in resource protection for the Nueces River Authority within the same basin where I was raised and where I raised my children."

Take Action: Sky Lewey River Protection Fund

Sky touched the hearts and minds of thousands of Texas landowners, paddlers, and river advocates. And yet several important campaigns that Sky championed remain unrealized. One of the most urgent is to protect Texas' few remaining pristine streams.

In partnership with Sky’s incredible family, including her children Jeff and Julie Lewey, the Hill Country Alliance established the Sky Lewey River Protection Fund. This fund will be used to ensure that Sky's legacy continues and the work to protect her Nueces River – and all the rivers of our state – carries on. Thank you for your support.
“Everything we do on the land is eventually reflected in a river. That’s why it’s so important to think about the whole landscape, how big and little pieces fit together.”  - Sky Lewey

In Memory

The Hill Country Alliance is honored to have had Sky's guidance in our formative years. Sky served as a Board Member for 10 years and led the organization as President during the creation of project-based teams to address Land and Water issues. To this day, these areas remain central to HCA's work. In 2019, Sky was honored as one of the first Heart of the Hill Country recipients alongside Christy Muse, HCA’s founding Executive Director.

Sky dedicated her life, work, and passion to protecting Texas's rivers. Through her career with the Nueces River Authority, she passed Senate Bill 155 to protect rivers and riparian areas from the devastating degradation of unfettered off-road vehicle abuse and sparked a community of river advocates in the process. She went on to create the Remarkable Riparian Network and field guide, the Pull.Kill.Plant campaign to stop the spread of Arundo donax on rivers, and the Up2U campaign to promote clean rivers and beaches. She also continued her family legacy of stewardship and conservation of the Open V Ranch in Uvalde.
Sky was an unparalleled champion for the Hill Country's waterways and riparian areas - and especially her beloved Nueces River. She created an immeasurable legacy of protecting the natural resources of the Hill Country that make this place so special, and grateful hardly begins to describe how many of us feel for having known and learned from her. We will sorely miss celebrating with her at this year's Summit.

Sky's beautiful family is carrying on her work of stewardship in the Nueces River basin. Julie and Liia Lewey, Jefferson and Cherie Lewey and their children Jack Mathis and Sonora Sky. However, Sky's legacy goes beyond her home. Anyone who was inspired, learned from, or otherwise benefited from Sky’s work is part of her extended family of river advocates, and part of her legacy.

We are also honored and grateful to have Sky's daughter, Julie Lewey, serve on the HCA Board of Directors and represent the Nueces River Authority in her presentation at next week's Leadership Summit. Whether you are joining us at the Summit or not, we hope you'll take some time this week to reflect on how you can be a part of extending Sky's legacy, for the benefit of all Texas rivers.

Sending love,
Katherine Romans
Executive Director, Hill Country Alliance
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