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

STAFF REPORT

Implementation of a multi-million-dollar regional plan to protect endangered species in San Marcos and New Braunfels passed a major milestone Wednesday and now awaits the approval of the federal government.

On Dec. 28, the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved a funding and management agreement that details how the EAA, with participation from the City of New Braunfels, the City of San Marcos, the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio Water System, and Texas State University, will pay for the implementation of a habitat conservation plan aimed at protecting threatened and endangered species whose only known habitats are the aquifer-fed Comal and San Marcos springs.

The goals of the plan include insuring the San Marcos Springs do not reach a daily average springflow rate of less than 45 cubic feet per second for more than six months. The springs flowed at an average of 101 cfs for the last 10 days. The average monthly springflow rate in December 2010 was 173 cfs.

The Edwards Aquifer sustains eight species listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government. According to the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program’s website, the primary threat to the species is the intermittent loss of habitat from reduced springflows.

For example, flows less than 30 cfs would be “detrimental” to the endangered Texas Wild-rice, according to a March 23 report by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff. According to TPWD, Texas Wild-rice was abundant in the San Marcos River many years ago, though the species’ range is now reduced to an area extending from just below Spring Lake dam downstream to the City of San Marcos wastewater treatment plant.

The EAA board approved the habitat conservation plan earlier this month. The HCP was developed over the past four-and-a-half years by a stakeholder group known as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program, or EARIP. Implementing the HCP will cost an estimated $18 million per year over the 15-year life of the plan, according to the EAA.

Approval of the funding and management agreement clears the way for the EAA and the other co-applicants to file the HCP and supporting documents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with an application for an incidental take permit under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The permit would allow incidental taking of species including the fountain darter, the San Marcos salamander, the San Marcos gambusia, the Texas blind salamander, the Peck’s Cave amphipod, the Comal Springs dryopid beetle, and the Comal Springs riffle beetle.

The incidental take permit is being sought because implementation of the HCP may cause harm to members of the species, though the plan is intended to insure the species’ long-term survival.

Robert Gulley, director of the EARIP, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will probably approve the HCP and issue a take permit within 10 months.

According to the EAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the HCP and the issuance of an incidental take permit would bring resolution to a decades-old conflict between the region’s dependence on the aquifer as a primary source of water and the federal mandate to protect threatened and endangered species dependent on the aquifer. The aquifer supplies water to about two million people.

According to the EAA, implementation of the HCP would help protect the region from litigation under the Endangered Species Act and would bring unprecedented certainty to groundwater rights for as long as the HCP is in effect.

According to a staff presentation to the San Marcos City Council on Oct. 18, implementation of the HCP in San Marcos is projected to cost $9.11 million from 2013-2019 and would involve the following activities:

• Texas Wild-rice enhancement and restoration
• Sediment removal in Sewell Park
• Aquatic vegetation restoration (non-native removal and native re-establishment) and maintenance (San Marcos River)
• Management of floating vegetation mats and litter removal (Spring Lake and San Marcos River)
• Non-native animal species control
• Sessom Creek sand bar removal
• Recreation control in key areas (enforcement)
• Restoration of San Marcos River riparian zone with native vegetation
• San Marcos Riverbank stabilization/permenant access points
• Bio-monitoring
• Water quality monitoring
• Designate hazardous materials routes to reduce exposure
• Include private land owners in San Marcos River riparian restoration
• Hazardous household waste disposal
• Registration of septic systems
• Stormwater best management practices

The EAA proposes to increase the aquifer management fee assessed on non-agriculture aquifer permit holders from $47 per acre-foot to $84 per acre-foot in February. The increase would pay for partial implementation of the HCP. The fee increase would require EAA to amend its current budget.

The EAA proposes to increase the HCP portion of the aquifer management fee by at least another $13 per acre-foot next budget year, which will begin in November 2012. The increase is intended to pay for full implementation of the HCP.

The City of San Marcos’ EAA permit authorizes it to pump about 5,460 acre-feet of Edwards Aquifer water per year, though typically only 1,600-1,800 acre-feet is used, according to City of San Marcos Public Services Director Tom Taggart. Taggart said the city acquires most of its water from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. Though groundwater is less costly than surface water, the city’s policy is to mostly use surface water to preserve the aquifer.

The EAA will hold public hearings to receive comments on proposed amendments to its budget and fee rate. The hearings are scheduled as follows:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
6:00 pm
Texas Agrilife Research and Extension Center
1619 Garner Field Road
Uvalde, TX 78801

Thursday, January 12, 2012
6:00 pm
Witte Museum
3801 Broadway Street
San Antonio, TX 78209

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
6:00 pm
San Marcos Activity Center
501 E. Hopkins
San Marcos, TX 7866

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