San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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February 22nd, 2012
EAA board approves aquifer management fee for HCP

STAFF REPORT

At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board of Directors voted to amend its budget for 2012 to fund implementation of a habitat conservation plan.

The HCP is designed to protect various threatened or endangered species whose only know habitats are the aquifer-fed Comal and San Marcos springs. The goals of the HCP 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 151.5 cfs during the last 10 days. The springs flowed at 161 cfs on Feb. 20. On Feb. 20, 2011, they flowed at 149 cfs. The average historical monthly average for February is 176 cfs.

The HCP will be funded with an additional aquifer management fee of $37 per acre-foot assessed on municipal and industrial groundwater permit holders.

The $37 fee is in addition to the $47 per acre-foot aquifer management fee the EAA already assesses on municipal and industrial permit holders to sustain its operating budget. As a result of the additional fee to fund the HCP, municipal and industrial permit holders will now pay an overall fee of $84 per acre-foot for authorized use in 2012. However, the aquifer management fee assessed on irrigation users will remain unchanged, as set by statute, at $2 per acre-foot of groundwater withdrawn.

The additional $37 program aquifer management fee will generate $14.8 million, all of which will be used to fund implementation of the HCP approved by EAA’s board last December. Implementing the HCP will cost an estimated $18 million a year, excluding inflation, over the next 15 years, according to the EAA.

The EAA recently submitted the HCP to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. According to the EAA, approval of the HCP by USFWS would bring resolution to the decades-long conflict between the federal mandate to protect aquifer-dependant threatened and endangered species and the region’s reliance on the aquifer as its primary water source. The City of San Marcos has greatly reduced its groundwater usage over the years, such that 80 percent of its water now comes from Canyon Lake rather than the Edwards Aquifer.

The EAA board also approved concepts for the next session of the Texas Legislature including an effort to explore and evaluate alternative options for funding the HCP. Under current state law (the EAA Act), the EAA’s sole means for funding its operations, including implementation of the HCP, is through the assessment of aquifer management fees on groundwater permit holders. The board will evaluate the potential effects of alternative funding options before adopting a legislative agenda later this year.

The EAA, created by the legislature in 1993 after the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit pursuant to the Federal Endangered Species Act, is charged with managing, enhancing, and protecting the Edwards Aquifer. The aquifer is one of the major groundwater systems in Texas and serves about two million people. The EAA is also charged with ensuring that the Comal and San Marcos springs flow at rates sufficient to protect endangered and threatened species. The EAA regulates water withdrawal during normal time periods, implements pumping restrictions during droughts, and funds aquifer-related research. EAA mandates a 20 percent reduction in pumping from the aquifer when the ten-day average flow at the San Marcos Springs reaches 96 cfs.

The Edwards Aquifer System. IMAGE via EAA

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