Sunday, August 19, 2012

Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan Video

San Marcos Daily Record 
August 16, 2012

New EAA video details the link between aquifer, species, rivers

San Marcos —    With the exception of the graceful strands of Texas Wild Rice that wave in the cool, clear water of the San Marcos River, the endangered species that call the river and the Edwards Aquifer home don’t call much attention to themselves.

The San Marcos Salamander, after all, is a tiny critter, as is the riffle beetle, the fountain darter and, if it still exists, the San Marcos gambusia. The Texas Blind Salamander doesn’t even poke its head out of the aquifer unless it gets too near a spring and is shot out into Spring Lake.

But without the species, and the protection the Endangered Species Act affords them, it’s doubtful either the San Marcos or Comal rivers would exist as we now know and enjoy them, river experts say.

Getting the public to fully understand that concept just got easier.

Last week, a new website went live, dedicated to the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP), which is a portion of the Legislature-mandated Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Plan (EARIP).

The plan both protects the species and complies with federal law, Robert Gulley, EARIP program director, explains in a video on the site, “Right now, a federal judge or the state legislature could come in and take over operation” of the aquifer without the EARIP, he argues. That will all change if the plan is approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which is now reviewing it.

“They are a link to the ecological system that ties us all together. We are obligated under law to do all we can to ensure their survival,” Roland Ruiz, interim director of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), says of the endangered species. By following the plan, “We can use the aquifer, we can share the aquifer, and the species can continue to survive.”

“Endangered plants and animals let us know we are reaching a tipping point where resources might not be available in the future,” San Marcos River Foundation Program Director Dianne Wassenich contributes. “When an endangered species is in trouble, like wild rice, it’s an indicator.”

Before the EARIP began its work, estimates were that pumpage from the Edwards would have to be cut by 85 percent to ensure the endangered species’ survival, Weir Labatt of the Texas Water Development Board adds. “That wasn’t possible. Everyone started looking for alternate solutions.”

Those solutions take a number of forms. One, an initiative of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), consists of storing Edwards water in the Carrizo Aquifer during times of rain, to be used in times of drought. “It’s essentially a savings account,” explains Robert Puentes of SAWS.

Another is a program that would pay farmers not to irrigate during times of drought. That would be triggered by Aquifer levels, Gulley said.

Other provisions would restrict human activity in some area, including near the Texas Wild Rice stands just downstream of the University Street Bridge.

None of it is cheap. The EAA says the effort to “bring resolution to the decades-long conflict between the federal mandate to protect threatened and endangered species associated with the Edwards Aquifer and the region’s dependence on the same aquifer as its primary water resource” will cost $18 million a year, “excluding inflation, over the next 15 years.”

If USFWS approves the EARIP, which could happen by the end of the year, “it will result in the issuance of an incidental take permit that will protect Edwards groundwater users from liability in the event incidental harm due to aquifer use comes to the threatened or endangered species protected by the Endangered Species Act,” the EAA says.

Partners in the EAHCP and applicants for incidental take permits include the EAA, the cities of San Marcos and New Braunfels, SAWS and Teas State University.

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