Thursday a Texas Senate Natural Resources Subcommittee heard testimony from Dr. Robert Gulley about the successful start of a group of Edwards Aquifer stakeholders working in collaboration to evaluate existing scientific studies and make recommendations regarding aquifer withdrawals and the protection of endangered species associated with the aquifer.The Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) stakeholders have met monthly since mid-2007 to draw up an agreement that sets up the organizational structure for the program operation. Diverse interests are represented by the stakeholders including water utilities, cities, agricultural users, industrial users, recreational and environmental organizations, river authorities, downstream and coastal communities.
EARIP Program Manager Dr. Gulley testified that the EARIP has made a tremendous amount of progress and worked collaboratively and cooperatively. “Senators, you should be proud of the stakeholders of the EARIP. You set out a very ambitious agenda for them. They have already accomplished far more than anyone could have reasonably expected in the year since Senate Bill 3 (2007) was enacted.”
Senator Hegar, Chairman on the Subcommittee, praised the RIP participants for meeting the aggressive schedule set-forth in SB 3 and reiterated his commitment to the process by stating, “I truly believe that we must work together, as a region, to solve this complex and contentious issue. We must develop the science to answer these critical water questions and everyone needs to be at the table as this scientific based solution is developed and ultimately implemented. I am so pleased with the progress that has been made thus far.”
Thirty-seven stakeholders signed a Memorandum of Agreement to work together to find solutions for balancing water needs for people and endangered species. Additionally, the EARIP Steering Committee appointed fifteen scientists to serve as the Science Subcommittee. The EARIP hired a program manager, and set goals of developing a habitat conservation plan with recommendations for aquifer management by the fall of 2012. The plan will be based on the best available science to address requirements under the Endangered Species Act.
“Time and time again the individual stakeholders have been willing to look past their immediate interests to keep the process functioning effectively. They are to be commended for their enthusiastic and tireless efforts. I believe that their commitment to the process will help us tackle the difficult, substantive problems that lie ahead,” added Dr. Gulley.
Joy Nicholopoulos, Texas State Administrator, with Fish and Wildlife Services offered written testimony in which she outline the accomplishment of the EARIP and stated, “These significant accomplishments are due to the commitment and hard work of all the stakeholders involved in the RIP.”
Beginning in 2006, United States Fish and Wildlife Service representatives began talking to regional stakeholders suggesting an EARIP. The Texas Legislature in 2007, with the leadership of Senator Glenn Hegar R-Katy, former State Representative Robert Puente D-San Antonio, and other legislators, passed Senate Bill 3, which created a structured process and framework for stakeholder participation.
For additional information, the website is http://earip.tamu.edu/ .
By Dr. ROBERT GULLEY
EARIP Program Manager