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 Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP)

Good News.

After five long years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program's (EARIP) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and incidental take permit for the EARIP. This agreement is for a 15 year period between all stakeholders involved and Fish and Wildlife. This will provide us some insurance in continued spring flows during times of severe drought and help protect the springs and downstream users from Federal lawsuits.

There is still a lot of work to be done by the Implementing Committee members and the spring communities, along with the Edwards Aquifer Authority.

Few if any of the over 80 stakeholders that began this process 5 years ago would have bet any money on our chance of succeeding. Thanks to the hard work and compromise by all, this agreement has been reached.

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
NEWS RELEASE- February, 2013
SERVICE APPROVES EDWARDS AQUIFER RECOVERY IMPLEMENTATION PROGRAM'S INCIDENTAL TAKE PERMIT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program's (EARIP) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and incidental take permit for the EARIP. The notice of availability of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and an incidental take permit for the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP), including the Habitat Conservation Plan will publish in today’s Federal Register.

The Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program's HCP is the result of a successful consensus based collaborative effort by a diverse group of more than forty groups and individuals from south central Texas to address the conservation needs of eight listed species and the needs of the communities dependent upon the Edwards Aquifer. Issuance of this incidental take permit will enable the Edwards Aquifer Authority; San Antonio Water Systems; the City of New Braunfels, Texas; the City of San Marcos, Texas; and Texas State University (collectively the Applicants) to continue their projects and operations, while preserving protected species and their habitat.

"Approval of the EARIP's HCP marks a significant conservation achievement for the Edwards Aquifer Region." stated Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle. "The organizations and individuals involved in the development of the HCP clearly demonstrated that it possible to come together and develop a consensus based solution to a very complex water issue in Texas." "The Service commends the efforts of those involved in this long and challenging process and we look forward to working with them to protect the eight listed species while providing certainty to those dependent upon the Edwards Aquifer."

The approved incidental take permit covers activities that would occur in Bexar, Medina and Uvalde Counties and portions of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties in Texas. The HCP describes measures the Applicants agree to undertake to minimize and mitigate the effects of incidental take of the following federally listed species dependent on the springs and river systems associated with the Edwards Aquifer: the fountain darter, San Marcos salamander, Texas wild rice, Texas blind salamander, Peck's cave amphipod , San Marcos gambusia, Comal Springs dryopid beetle and the Comal Springs riffle beetle.

The HCP covers general activities associated with actions including the regulation and production of groundwater for irrigation, industrial, municipal, domestic, and livestock purposes; the use of instream flows in the Comal River and San Marcos River for recreational uses; and other operational and maintenance activities that could affect Comal Springs, San Marcos Springs and the associated river systems. Adoption of a multispecies habitat conservation approach, rather than a species-by-species/project-by-project approach, reduces the cost of implementing activities to minimize species impacts and implement mitigation measures. In addition, it reduces the costs and time-consuming efforts associated with processing individual incidental take permits.

The Edwards Aquifer is one of the most prolific artesian aquifers in the world. It is also the source of the two largest springs in Texas: Comal and San Marcos. The Edwards Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for more than 2 million people including the seventh largest city in the nation (San Antonio) and serves the domestic, agricultural, industrial and recreational needs of the area.

You may obtain copies of the EIS and HCP online at www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas.


Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP)

Aquifer Plan Approved

A message from FOLM's representative on the committee, Gary Spence:

Finally, after four years of meeting, committees, sub-committees, science pier reviews, and volumes of reading and studying lengthy documents, the EARIP has reached census and approved a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) along with an Incidental Take Permit and the thorny issues of how to pay for this plan.

There was tremendous give and take by a multitude of stakeholders with varying positions and agendas. Many meetings would have up to 80 in attendance, most of which were stakeholders. In the end, unlike many of our elected politicians, we were able to put the overall goal of the initiative ahead of hidden intentions and reach an agreement.

An over simplified description of this work is the HCP is a document written to protect the endanger species in the Edwards Aquifer and springs, while at the same time allow water rights to the Edwards Aquifer, with triggers to conserve water and implement protections. All while providing some degree of protection from Federal lawsuits, using the Endangered Species Act against water users. The HCP will cover a 15 year period, during which we will continue to study and create new ways to protect the endangered species, while allowing significant use of the aquifer and spring flow water. Just to give you an idea of the complexity and difficulty of this work, the Edwards Aquifer Authority itself failed many years ago to write an HCP acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

We must continually remind ourselves how blessed we are to live on a lake where the majority of the time, its major source of water, the Comal Springs, being one of the largest springs in Texas; and how critical that is to our water quality and home values.

Please see the Express News article regarding the funding actions of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. This should be the final major hurdle in the work of the EARIP. However, as you know, Murphy has a way of raising his ugly head.

Much of our success can be attributed to our outstanding Program Director, Dr. Robert Gulley.
12/28/11


News Release

Contact: Dr. Robert Gulley, Program Manager

Ofc.Phone: 210-222-0711 or 210-632-4083(C)

Email: rlgulley@ag.tamu.edu                                                                 October 13, 2011

A resolution to the longstanding struggle to balance endangered species protection with Edwards aquifer water use may finally be realized in the form of a stakeholder supported Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The long-awaited HCP will serve as a species and habitat management plan to protect listed species associated with the Edwards aquifer and to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The HCP was developed by stakeholders participating in the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP). Their goals included water supply stability during drought.

On October 12, after years of technical analysis and a directed effort to minimize the costs of implementing the HCP, the stakeholders gave tentative approval to a draft HCP and the necessary supporting documents that must be filed with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Once formally approved by the stakeholder organizations, the HCP and supporting documents will be presented as recommendations to the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) Board of Directors. Under state law, the EAA must implement a program by December 31, 2012 to ensure that continuous minimum springflows of the Comal and San Marcos springs are maintained to protect listed species as required by federal law. The EAA must review the EARIP recommendations and may use the EARIP documents as the basis for its required protection programs.

 "There are many hard won decisions in the plan," said Jim Bower, stakeholder from the City of Garden Ridge."Not all parts are appealing to all people, but over all the plan package meets the needs of the region during extreme drought."

WHAT IS EARIP?

Since 2006 EARIP participants, including the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), four state agencies, agricultural producers, cities, industries, environmental groups and a broad range of stakeholders in the Edwards region have come together to develop a plan to protect the federally listed threatened and endangered species of the Edwards aquifer while satisfying the water supply needs of the region. Particular consideration has been given to the need for continued access to aquifer water supplies to maintain the region's economic stability, even during severe droughts.

If approved by EARIP and then EAA, the proposed HCP will be submitted to the USFWS for its review and consideration. The HCP, if approved by USFWS, would protect the species during drought and actually help their recovery, while shielding Edwards aquifer permit holders from liability in the event of harm to the species as a result of the managed pumping from the aquifer. The HCP would also protect the recreational and other activities listed in the report.

"Good faith efforts over the past four years and thousands of hours of work by a diverse group of stakeholders have led to a good solution for a decades-long water battle," said Dr. Robert Gulley, EARIP program manager.

CONSEQUENCES IF PLAN DOES NOT SUCCEED

An approved HCP would allow the USFWS to issue an incidental take permit. The permit requires the permittees to adhere to the management and protection activities detailed in the HCP and in turn, the USFWS provides the permittees with protection from Endangered Species Act litigation for the incidental taking of listed species while carrying out activities, such as groundwater pumping or recreation, covered in the HCP.  As a result, an approved HCP adds certainty to the availability of water from the Edwards for the life of the HCP term.

Without a federally approved plan to protect the listed species, the region risks federal intervention that could drastically limit aquifer use in order to protect two major spring systems - the Comal and San Marcos springs - which provide habitat to the species. Water supplies for many cities, farms and industries would also be affected by the drying up of these two springs.

The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) owes its creation to disputes over how to maintain state control over groundwater while protecting the listed species associated with the aquifer. The EAA was established in 1993 by the Texas Legislature, acting in response to a federal court order that threatened a federal takeover of the management of the aquifer if effective aquifer regulations were not implemented. The legislature also mandated a reduction in aquifer pumping through a gradual buy-down of water rights  over a specified period of time with a cap of 400,000 acre-feet of pumping rights to take effect in 2008. 

The costs of buying down those water rights in today's dollars would approach a billion dollars.  Facing this enormous cost, the 2007 Texas Legislature changed course and directed EAA and four state agencies to pursue an alternate route to species and groundwater protection through the EARIP process. The legislature increased the pumping cap to 572,000 acre-feet, but balanced the increase by requiring additional pumping reduction measures to operate during drought periods and requiring the EAA to implement a plan to protect the federally listed species. 

HOW TO PAY FOR THE PLAN

The billion dollar price tag for buying down water rights, mandated for 2008, helped focus the stakeholders on alternative plans and projects in the HCP. EARIP stakeholders weighed the options for paying for the HCP projects and originally determined that a nominal sales tax would be the most equitable funding option because it spreads the costs over the sixteen-county region that benefits from the projects. The sales tax would also allow financial participation from visitors to the region, many of whom are attracted to the region by its beautiful and unique water features. 

When the Legislature did not approve the sales tax for a region-wide vote in the 2011 session, EARIP stakeholders realized that the only revenue option to fund the HCP is an increase in EAA aquifer management fees. Once the HCP is approved by USFWS, these fees will have to be enacted at least until the next legislative session, when the EARIP stakeholders agreed they will once again seek approval of the sales tax option to replace the aquifer management fees. Several downstream water users have also agreed to contribute a total of almost $800,000 per year to the HCP projects, including the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which will contribute $400,000.  They will work with other EARIP stakeholders to ask for a sales tax in the future. 

"This is a livable and supportable solution, compared to the cost of buying water rights or facing federal control of the area's water supply," said Calvin Finch, stakeholder from the San Antonio Water System (SAWS).  

THE PROJECTS AND COSTS: 

The EARIP relies upon the best science available, including species studies and surface water and groundwater models to determine the impacts of extreme drought on the region's water supplies and on the Comal and San Marcos springs. Participants agreed on a species protection plan that appears to achieve the key objective to keep the Comal and San Marcos springs flowing in a repeat of the 1950's drought of record. 

The total cost of the HCP projects is estimated to average less than twenty million dollars annually for the first seven years of implementation. Additional scientific studies will be performed in this first phase of the plan to determine whether the initial projects will satisfy long-term species protection goals or whether additional projects or measures are needed. Studies will also investigate ways to reduce program costs. 

Projects include a voluntary program to pay irrigators to suspend irrigation during drought periods, and a project to add to the underground storage of Edwards aquifer water in the Carrizo Aquifer for later use during droughts. There are projects to help communities conserve water, and to improve the habitat for listed species in the springs so that the species will be better able to survive droughts.

"It will take time to get all aspects of the plan in place, so that creates some risk to the listed species," said Myron Hess, stakeholder from the National Wildlife Federation. "In addition, there is always uncertainty associated with computer modeling and assumptions about future climate conditions.  But, the bottom line is that the EARIP HCP is a reasonable compromise that presents the best hope to keep the springs flowing."

 


EARIP Comes To Funding Agreement- See Article


FOLM and EARIP

FOLM has been active in protecting spring flows from the Comal and San Marcos springs, our only source of drinking water and the source of our river.  The Edwards Aquifer is a pristine source of underground water and has been the only source of drinking water and irrigation in South Texas for centuries.  The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) was created by the Texas Legislature in 1993 by a court order to develop critical dry period water use restrictions to protect endangered species in the aquifer.  The laws set forth by the EAA over a period of time had direct conflicts between the pumping caps set and the historical pumping permits issued to pumpers.  This was to be remedied by the 2007 Texas State Legislature.

To help protect our springs, we joined an organization called the Guadalupe Basin Coalition (GBC) consisting of members downstream of the springs and represents elements of New Braunfels, Seguin, Dunlap, McQueeney and Placid lake associations, Victoria and industrial users between here and the coast.  It is an organization employing lobbyists to protect our water interests in the legislature.

The Legislature remedied the previous conflict, but to help satisfy long term water needs for all concerned, mandated through Senate Bill 3, that the EAA participate in a process offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.  That process called a Recovery Implementation Plan (RIP) lays out a cooperative process for all stakeholders to develop, through agreement, and using scientific data, effective pumping restrictions, and develop additional sources of water, that will protect the endangered species, and meet the water needs of all involved.  This is a monumental task.  FOLM is one of the listed stakeholders in this process.

Senate Bill 3 specified a 21 person steering committee representing a fairly widespread representation of stakeholders, some of which are specified by name or agency, and some were appointed by various state agencies.   It allowed the committee to expand itself and it added five additional members.  The chair of GBC is one of the voting members, and FOLM’s Gary Spence is the alternate in the primary’s absence.

Another major item was to hire a Program Manager under the auspices of Texas A & M University.  The University established a budget to fill the Program Manager position.   That position was filled by Dr. Robert Gulley, and environmental law attorney and administrator with extensive experience in his field and water issues.  He has been an excellent source of guidance for this process.

An expert Science Committee was formed to establish data used to guide all major decisions.  The ultimate goal of the EARIP is to have all parties form a consensus to modify the recovery plan while tying in the mandates spelled out by Senate Bill 3The end result would be protection of the species with necessary spring flow, establish pumping restrictions in dry years, and establish alternate sources of water other than the aquifer.  If this ultimately meets U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s approval, Federal funds would be available to accomplish this, which is a lot smarter than local only funding.

The EARIP sounds unmanageable, but in four multi-states, RIP’s that use this process have worked.  One of the largest and I would think, most contentious, is on the Colorado River basin, and to date, there have been no law suits and all parties are working together.

In a recent event a member of our Guadalupe Basin Coalition, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Edwards Aquifer Board representing Hays and Caldwell counties.  He has a long history of involvement with Edwards Aquifer issues and was city attorney in San Marcos for 18 years and is a member of GBC.   He will represent our water interest in an outstanding manner.

The Edwards Aquifer Authority in critical period dry years has evolved into direct conflicts between the pumpers (San Antonio Water System and irrigators) and the downstream spring flow users.

The Edwards Aquifer is a Karsts system (formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks) that depends strictly on rainfall and runoff.  In wet years it can recharge at a rate of over 2 million acre feet of water.  In dry years such as 1956 the aquifer recharge rate dropped to 46,000 acre feet.  The ten year average is 225,000 acre feet.   It is like a sponge, with high rainfall, it recharges in abundance, but in dry years such as the drought of record in the 1950’s, it is totally insufficient to meet needs.

The current pumping cap is 572,000 acre feet with stringent triggers that require all pumpers to cut their use and become more restrictive as the aquifer drops.  In normal years pumpers do not exceed 400,000 acre feet.    When the aquifer is high, artesian wells and springs will flow.  We are dependent on those springs for both drinking water and recreational use, as are the endangered species and the coastal estuaries.

Water has developed into one of the most contentious issues facing our state and in most areas of our country.  It is vital that FOLM remain engaged in all processes that will protect our needs today and in the future.


Related Links:

Texas A&M EARIP Site   Edwards Aquifer Authority    Aquifer Guardians   More Aquifer Info

  

Friends of Lake McQueeney •  P.O. Box 781, McQueeney, Texas, 78123