Guadalupe River anglers represented

The Texas B.A.S.S. Federation Nation has been representing recreational interests on the Guadalupe River as one of 23 steering committee members on the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP).

"We helped develop the Habitat Conservation Plan for the endangered species associated with the aquifer and the springs," explained Tim Cook, conservation director for the Texas chapter.

"This committee has a huge impact on water planning for the entire South Central Texas Region," Cook continued. "We have been on this committee for almost five years."

Below is the full report from Texas' water policy coordinator, Carl Adkins, who spent more than 120 hours attending meetings and performing research for this project.

EARIP information for Carl Adkins

What is the EARIP and what was it tasked to do?

The EARIP is a collaborative, consensus-based, regional stakeholder process tasked by the Texas Legislature with the development of a plan to help recovery of the federally-protected species by September 2012. EARIP stakeholders include water utilities, cities, groundwater conservation districts, agricultural users, industrial users, environmental organizations, individuals, recreation, river authorities, downstream and coastal communities, and state and federal agencies.

The task of the EARIP was to develop and submit a HCP that would protect the endangered species in the rivers and provide the area with a workable water usage plan.

The process took over four years, but the documents written by EARIP stakeholders for a management and funding plan to protect the Edwards Aquifer were approved by the vote of the steering committee of the EARIP at a Monday, November 7 meeting in Seguin. The long-awaited plan contributes to a stable water supply for the region while protecting the endangered species, and was approved on a vote of 24-1, and with one abstention.

Conflicts between species protection and Edwards Aquifer pumping have plagued the region for decades. The EARIP protection plan marks the first time that area stakeholders have reached a consensus resolution to the conflicts. The plan and supporting documents will be presented as recommendations to the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) Board of Directors in December. Under state law, the EAA must implement a program by December 31, 2012 to ensure that continuous minimum spring flows 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. The plan will then be submitted to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. The approval by the federal agency is anticipated by fall 2012.

The two major projects in the plan include paying farmers who sign up for a voluntary irrigation suspension program, and placing additional water in the Carrizo Aquifer Storage and Recovery project in which SAWS currently has some water stored. Many other measures, including habitat improvements in the Comal and San Marcos springs, municipal conservation programs, and a Stage 5 pumping cutback as a last resort, are included in the plan. Further study over the next seven years will determine whether these measures are sufficient to protect the listed species, and if not, what additional methods would be most effective.

The abstention to the vote was made by Buck Benson who represents industrial interests, because of the funding method for the plan. The representative from Castroville, Bruce Alexander, who represents small cities that pump from the aquifer, voted against the plan because of the funding agreement. Both expressed support for the projects in the plan.

Contributions of $740,000 annually are being pledged by downstream cities and industries to assist with the EARIP projects, and the rest will be raised with aquifer pumping fees levied by EAA. The EARIP stakeholders plan to ask the Legislature for permission to hold an election to substitute a small sales tax for the pumping fees and downstream contributions, in the next legislative session.EARIP stakeholders weighed the options for paying for plan projects and 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.

I will continue to be involved with the EARIP and several of the EARIP activates that have been suggested under the HCP, but still must be developed and activated. Examples: Conservation programs for individual well owners, habitat improvement on the San Marcos River, and getting the upper area of the San Marcos river declared a State Scientific area.

Committees served on

RIP Steering Committee  Monthly meeting since 2008, with four two day meetings.

Attended several meetings for hiring the Coordination and Negotiation team for the RIP (three meetings, two in San Antonio at SAWS and one in Sequin at GBRA)

I felt that this was a very important decision for the future of the RIP, and I wanted to be able to evaluate the various candidate groups based upon their presentations to the committee and not just the committee’s recommendation. This also gave me the opportunity to give input to the committee about the candidates.

Restoration and Mitigation for the San Marcos Springs Group (Chair Melody Howard, multiple attendees from Texas Park and Wildlife, The Federal Fish Hatchery, Army Corp of Engineers, City of San Marcos, and citizens of San Marcos)

This group was started independently from the RIP and had been meeting monthly for a couple of years before I joined them. They were concentrating on what could be done, locally and through the Army Corp of Engineers, to improve the habitat in the San Marcos River for the endangered species. The planning for several small projects was well underway when they were brought into the RIP process and combined with the Comal interest. From that point on the group just fizzled out. It was a shame, because to me they had done a lot of positive things.

There is still some work going on by the Army Corp of Engineers in the Spring Lake area, but coordination for this seems to be only with the city and the university. There is little or no community involvement or communication.

Restoration and Mitigation for the Comal and San Marcos Springs Committee later to be called The Ecosystem Restoration Subcommittee (Chair Nathan Pence, multiple members and attendees with an average attendance around 20 people)

This committee developed the Restoration and Mitigation Plan for the Comal and the San Marcos springs areas. These areas included the springs and the upper ends of the rivers. The Comal area and San Marcos area needs were developed independently using similar formats. First the needs were developed, then the solutions were developed, and then these solutions were worded into an action item. This was followed by setting a numeric value as to degree of importance to the species for each action. The results were presented in a report to the RIP as a package including both systems.

The RIP then instructed the Committee to go back and pull out the highest priority actions, develop them in more detail, and then establish an estimated cost for each action. The committee again split the task into the two groups, and each group completed the task for their spring area. Then the committee met back as a whole and combined the two lists into a single report. The final report still kept the two spring areas separate because of the difference in the needs and priorities of the different systems.

This final report has been accepted by the RIP and many of the actions are in the planning stages of being used in the HCP. The rest of the actions are due to be addressed in the Adaptive Management Plan.

Examples of the Actions are: Bank restoration, removal of invasive non-native plants in the river systems and replace them with native plants, removal of invasive non-native fish from the river systems, establishing zones to control access in and out of the rivers, establish buffering zones to protect wild rice from recreation during low flows, establishing toxic load routes away from the rivers, etc.

RIP Science Sub-Committee (A total of 16 to 20 scientists with expertise on the rivers, the springs, the aquifer, and the endangered species, both from a biological and a hydraulical side)

Attended five or six of these meetings when information was being presented or issues were discussed that seemed particularly important to my decision making responsibility.

Water Conservation Work Group Committee (Chair Colette Barron, Carl Adkins, Jim Bower, Tyson Broad, Calvin Finch, Javier Hernandez, Rick Ilgner, Annalisa Peace, Humberto Ramos, Adam Yablonski)

This is a work group with multiple facets all designed to conserve the use of Edwards Aquifer Water. Some individuals, communities, and industries in the Edwards Aquifer region have had considerable success in reducing water usage through various conservation efforts. Unfortunately this has only been in certain areas and is not uniform across the aquifer. The goal of this committee is to pick out some of the better conservation practices and try to make them available on a broader bases.

The Committee settled on four actions:

1. Provide a program for small municipal, private purveyors, and individual well owners that would provide them with water saving fixtures and other water savings methods to reduce the use of Edwards Aquifer water. An educational component for the providers as well as the general public is also an important part of this program.

2. A technical assistance Program for water systems where large water purveyors would provide help to the smaller system to perform audits, determine and address water loss, and implement programs to reduce waste and encourage conservation. The EAA would be involved in administering this part of the program.

3. An agricultural Irrigation Improvement Program. Water savings would be achieved by enhanced irrigation conservation practices funded by cost-sharing through participation in the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP).

4. A Voluntary Dedicated Water Supply Program where water purveyors with unused Edwards Aquifer inventory derived from conservation or from secured future water supplies may dedicate an amount of water as unavailable for pumping.

The area that I have been working in is the first one identified. A program to provide small municipal, private purveyors and individual well owners with water saving fixtures and other water savings methods to reduce the use of water. Annalisa Pierce and I have meet with the Conservation Dept. of the EAA and have had several work sessions to develop a plan to put this into effect. We are leaning toward a private non-profit that shadows the boundaries of the EAA. This is an area, if we can make it work, that will provide water at a very low cost to benefit ratio. This project still has a lot of hurdles to clear before it happens.

Refugia Work Group Committee (Chair Cindy Loeffler, Nathan Pence, Calvin Finch, Todd Votteler, Rick Illgner, and Carl Adkins

This is a work group to look at establishing a complete refugia at the National Fish Hatchery & Training Center in San Marcos. The present facility serves as a refugia for some of the endanger species in the two systems, but is not a full functioning refugia capable of carrying enough stock of all the covered species. The refugia would also have to have the capability for reproduction of these species. The refugia would be used as the source to restock the species if the natural stock were lost in one or both systems.

The committee agreed that the refugia is a must requirement for the HCP, and it worked with Tom Brandt to establish a budget for enhancements and staffing for the facility. It was also included to enhance and staff the Inks Dam and Uvalde facilities so they could serve as back up facilities for the San Marcos facility.

Total cost for remodeling the three facilities, plus staffing and operating cost for the first 25 years, is $34,568,919. The RIP has voted to make this a part of the HCP.

I am glad we have this in the plan. It will serve as the emergency back up if the other plans fail.

Recreational Management for San Marcos Work Group Committee (Chair Tom Taggert, Dianne Wassenick, Calvin Finch, Nathan Pence, Colette Barron, Sam Hemle, and Carl Adkins)

The group has just started meeting. The purpose is to protect the wild rice from recreational activities. The direction the group seems to be going, is to try to get Texas Parks and Wildlife to declare the San Marcos river, from Spring Lake down to the convergence with the Blanco River, as a State Scientific Area. This would be similar to Redfish Bay State Scientific Area. The purpose is to give more teeth to protect of the wild rice areas. At first I thought this was an overkill, but after hearing the problems with on the river enforcement by local officials in New Braunfels, it made more sense. The locations of wild rice would be labeled by signage, and on and off water enforcement would be used. There would also be a large educational component to this action. Recreation would not be curtailed, simple redirected away from the wild rice stands.

There are still more meeting to come to work out the details.

Adaptive Management Plan for the Management of Recreation at New Braunfels Work Group  (Nathan Pence, Melody Howard, Ken Deal, Carl Adkins, Buck Benson, David B., Darren Hill)

Work group appointed to work with RECON specifically with respect to the management of Recreation at New Braunfels as part of the Adaptive Management Plan. The group has not met as of this date.

Multiple Meetings and Conference Calls - Discussion about various activities of the RIP with people on the committee with similar thoughts about various actions.

Other RIP and Other Water Activities attended:

RIP Public Hearing Meeting in San Marcos (Required by Federal Statue) A meeting where the public is invited to discuss what is going on with the plans of the RIP

RIP Public Hearing Meeting in New Braunfes (Required by Federal Statue) A meeting where the public is invited to discuss what is going on with the plans of the RIP

Meet with Karen Ford, Hays County Commissioner A discussion of Rain Water Collection Systems and their use in Northern Hays County over the Trinity Aquifer, held on Sept 8, 2010.

The League of Women voters “Texas Water: What You Should Know” on Nov. 6, 2010 in Seguin, TX at GBRA. A very good symposium on ground and surface water authorities, issues, laws, and upcoming legislation.

State of Water Symposium - Presentation at the Bob Bullock History Museum in Austin. A two hour presentation followed by a mixer where I ran into one of my ex-students, John Schnautz, who is Counsel to and the water issues adviser for Speaker Joe Straus. The presentation was about the state of water quality and supply through out the state of Texas. Very informative.

Final Round of RIP Public Hearing Meeting in New Braunfels (Required by Federal Statue) A meeting where the public is invited to discuss the final plans of the HCP developed by the RIP.

Final Round of RIP Public Hearing Meeting in San Marcos (Required by Federal Statue) A meeting where the public is invited to discuss the final plans of the HCP developed by the RIP.

EAA Public Meetings in New Braunfels - A presentation to inform the public about the RIP activities and what it could mean to future water rates in the area.

EAA Public Meetings in San Marcos - A presentation to inform the public about the RIP activities and what it could mean to future water rates in the area.

 

This article is part of the Access segment of the larger report, 2011 Annual Achievements in B.A.S.S. Conservation.

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