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Water for All

Diverse stakeholders are lauded for work to conserve Edwards Aquifer.

Hard work and cooperation among partners have long been hallmarks of successful conservation programs. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and a score of partners were honored for the roles they play in preserving Texas water for both people and wildlife at a national ceremony in January.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presented the 2013 Partners in Conservation Award to the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) for “innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges.”

Located at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, the Edwards Aquifer is one of the most biologically diverse aquifers in the world. This prolific artesian aquifer is home to species found nowhere else, including eight species listed under the Endangered Species Act: the fountain darter, San Marcos salamander, San Marcos gambusia, Texas blind salamander, Peck's cave amphipod, Comal Springs dryopid beetle, Comal Springs riffle beetle and Texas wild rice. The San Marcos gambusia, last collected in the wild in 1983, may already be extinct.

The underground layer of porous, honeycombed, water-bearing rock is also the source of the two largest springs in Texas and perhaps the southwestern U.S. — the San Marcos and Comal springs. Water from the aquifer flows into the Guadalupe River, ultimately providing freshwater inflows to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, home to the whooping crane, another endangered species.

The Edwards Aquifer provides clean drinking water to more than 2 million residents of the San Antonio region and provides water for farming and ranching communities, the rapidly growing cities of New Braunfels and San Marcos, and communities all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Conflict over the Edwards Aquifer had been brewing for decades and came to a head in 1991 when the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit under the federal Endangered Species Act,” says Cindy Loeffler, TPWD water resources branch chief. “In 2007 the Texas Legislature directed a number of interest groups, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, to come up with a solution to the problem. Department staff from several divisions have played key roles, serving on the steering committee and science teams, helping to identify strategies to protect spring flows, especially during droughts.”

In addition, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission created the San Marcos River State Scientific Area. This designation gives additional protection to Texas wild rice, a true Texas native found nowhere else in the world.

A wide variety of groups were involved in developing and implementing the aquifer plan. Five stakeholder groups – the Edwards Aquifer Authority, New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio and Texas State University – led the way, with help from others, such as the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. Representatives from that angler group attended “at least 100” meetings.

“Even though we’re a bass fishing organization, our responsibilities didn’t stop with fishing. We had the awesome job of representing all recreational users on this water body,” Carl Adkins says. “The best way to give back to our sport is to get involved in conservation and youth initiatives. We all love to fish, but we need to take the time to make sure our resources are available for future generations.”

In 2013, the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan gained final approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and will move forward with implementation.

“This project has been successful because of the hard work and collaboration of stakeholders with varied interests and goals,” says Bob Joseph, USGS Texas Water Science Center director. “This partnership is a wonderful example of how to address complex topics that involve endangered species and water resource issues.”

The Texas Senate and House of Representatives also lauded the efforts of EARIP stakeholders and the success of the program during the last legislative session.

There’s more work to be done, and there are more tough questions to answer, but the members of this cooperative brain trust have set up a blueprint for success.

“The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan will protect the rare spring ecosystems while allowing continued use of the Edwards Aquifer and the rivers that flow from it,” Loeffler says.

 

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