by WES FERGUSON
San Marcos city council members on Tuesday unanimously approved recommendations to alleviate the effects of swimming, picnicking and other recreational activities on the health of the San Marcos River.
The recommendations will now go before a regional committee working to develop the state-mandated Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program, a process that includes developing a habitat conservation plan. The plan will require federal approval to become public policy.
In San Marcos, recommended mitigation efforts include the development of large and enhanced access sites along the river; the designation of dense vegetation zones; more signs to deter people from trespassing on private property, thus reducing litter and bank erosion; and stepped-up litter removal.
Also recommended is the creation of a river buffer zone to keep amenities like shelters, picnic tables, portable grills and trash cans at a safe distance from the water. That too would reduce litter and bank compaction, according to the city’s River Recreation Task Force.
In addition, the recommendation would establish scientific study areas to protect Texas wild-rice, a rare species of aquatic grass found only in Spring Lake and the uppermost four miles of the San Marcos River.
The City Council had tabled the resolution at its meeting on Feb. 1 to address concerns that included maintaining public access to the river as well as the balance of personal freedom with protection of the river.
The Edwards Aquifer group will next meet Feb. 28 in San Antonio. Also on Feb. 28, the group plans to have completed a draft of its habitat conservation plan, which must then be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The deadline to adopt the plan is in 2012.
Following a judge’s ruling in the Sierra Club’s 1991 lawsuit under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Legislature created the Edwards Aquifer Authority in 1993, and set a total of pumping limit of 450,000 acre-feet to be scaled back to 400,000 acre-feet by January 2008. An acre-foot is the amount it takes to flood one acre with one foot of water, about what an average household of four uses in a year.
The same bill, however, codifies guidelines for the authority to use in issuing pumping permits to cities, water supplies and other users (such as West Texas irrigators) based on their historical use of the aquifer. Following its interpretation of those rules, the authority has issued permits totaling 549,000 acre-feet of water.
Representing a district that includes San Antonio but also the spring cities of San Marcos and New Braunfels, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth two years ago proposed legislation to raise the cap to 549,000 acre-feet Wentworth’s bill would have raised the cap to that level and set a floor of 340,000 acre feet that could be pumped even during the most critical drought periods.
As the Legislature headed to a showdown over the proposal, Wentworth instead proposed legislation that he characterized as a truce, saying “We don’t need any more water wars. We don’t need more blood spilled over water on the floor of the Texas House and Senate.”