San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 5th, 2011
EAA to hold hearings on ‘significant,’ ‘likely’ fee increase

STAFF REPORT

Edwards Aquifer Authority officials have announced public meetings to present information and receive public comment regarding what they say is a likely, significant increase in the aquifer management fees for fiscal year (FY) 2012.

The fees will be assessed on holders of Edwards Aquifer municipal and industrial groundwater withdrawal permits, the former of which includes the City of San Marcos. The fee increase would take effect Jan. 1.

City of San Marcos staff are preparing for a 190 percent increase in the authority’s aquifer management fee next fiscal year. Staff have proposed a $633,360 line item in the water/wastewater utility’s budget to cover the cost.

The purpose of the fee increase is mostly to pay anticipated costs associated with the implementation of a habitat conservation plan (HCP) pursuant to the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP). According to aquifer authority officials, a much smaller aquifer management fee increase is needed for the aquifer management fee rebate program, the enhanced water quality program, and for financial restructuring necessary for the continuance of a significant component of the agency’s water conservation efforts.

According to EAA the aquifer management fee rebate program began in 2006 and is designed to encourage water conservation from the Edwards Aquifer by incentivizing permit holders to withdraw less water in exchange for a rebate of previously paid annual aquifer management fees.

According to aquifer authority officials, their organization is limited to funding all administrative expenses and programs through aquifer management fees assessed on all users of the Edwards Aquifer who have an EAA-issued groundwater withdrawal permit. These users include irrigation, municipal, and industrial users. State law limits the amount that can be assessed on irrigation users to $2 per acre-foot of water actually used. Aquifer management fee rates for non-irrigation users are set by the the authority’s board of director’s when it adopts an annual operating budget each November.

The authority’s board will not propose an aquifer management fee rate or operating budget for fiscal year 2012 until October 2011. However, the authority is holding public meetings now to solicit public comment and provide information to those who will be directly affected, so they can plan for the anticipated fee increase.

The Texas Legislature created the EARIP, a stakeholder group charged with representing the region’s diverse interests, in 2007 to preserve endangered species while balancing the needs of the two million people who use the Edwards Aquifer as a water source. State and federal law requires natural habitats of certain aquifer-dependent, threatened and endangered species to be preserved. The EARIP uses a consensus-driven process to identify measures to benefit federally-listed species dependent on the aquifer, specifically those species within the Comal and San Marcos Springs ecosystems.

The aquifer authority is tasked with recommending a plan of action that would result in the issuance of an incidental take permit. The action plan must acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) before the federal government issues an incidental take permit. Issuance of the permit would require the Authority to begin collecting increased aquifer management fees in 2012 in an amount sufficient to cover the initial associated costs of implementing the habitat conservation plan.

The habitat conservation plan, under development for the past four years, will be completed and submitted to Fish & Wildlife for approval in the fall 2011, according to aquifer authority officials. Officials said they anticipate the EARIP steering committee will recommend that EAA and other stakeholders implement the habitation conservation from Jan. 1, 2013, through at least 2028.

The times and dates of public meetings on the aquifer management fee increase are as follows:

6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10
San Marcos Activity Center
501 E. Hopkins
San Marcos, TX 78666

6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11
Edwards Aquifer Authority, Conference Center
1615 N. St. Mary’s Street
San Antonio, TX 78215

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