Tag Archives: Edwards Aquifer

Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program Receives 2013 Partners in Conservation Award – Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s Tyson Broad among recipients honored in Washington

Washington, DC – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today presented the Department’s 2013 Partners in Conservation awards at a ceremony in Washington, DC, where she honored 20 partnership projects that have demonstrated exemplary natural resource conservation efforts through public-private cooperation.  In Texas, the 2013 award went to the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) – a program that resulted in large part from several decades of work by the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter to raise awareness of issues surrounding development over the Edwards Aquifer and federal requirements to protect endangered and threatened species that depend on its springflows.

“The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges,” Secretary Jewell said at an awards ceremony at the Interior headquarters in Washington today.  “These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation.”

“Partnerships are vital to wildlife conservation efforts nationwide as they allow us to combine the strengths of our stakeholders with the resources and abilities of our staff,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Almost anything is possible when you leverage the skills, talents, dedication and abilities of diverse groups of stakeholders that share a common conservation agenda.”

“We are extremely proud of the work we have put into protecting the Edwards Aquifer.  It has been a long struggle over several decades and involved the efforts of countless advocates and supporters, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Director Scheleen Walker said.  “We especially appreciate the tireless work of our Water Research Associate Tyson Broad, one of today’s individual recipients in D.C. who has worked on the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program since its inception in 2007.”

“We in the environmental community often don’t see tangible awards for many of the struggles we work on year-in and year-out to preserve Texas’ natural resources,” noted former Chapter Director Ken Kramer, who currently serves as the Sierra Club’s Water Resources Chair in Texas.  “It is great that we can take a moment today to appreciate everything that we have accomplished and know that though change can be slow at times, it comes to those who persevere.”

In the early 1990s, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in federal court for its failure to develop a recovery plan to protect endangered and threatened species at Comal and San Marcos Springs, the discharge points for the Aquifer.   The lawsuit argued that the rising and falling of aquifer levels affect the flows necessary to maintain the species at the springs and that under the Endangered Species Act the USFWS had a legal obligation to coordinate management of the Aquifer. 

The Sierra Club won the lawsuit in 1993 , and the federal judge gave the Texas Legislature time to enact legislation to regulate withdrawals of groundwater from the aquifer to protect aquifer levels and springflows. The Legislature responded by creating the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) which placed a cap on groundwater withdrawals.

Coupled with the creation of the EAA was a requirement that a plan be developed for maintaining springflows and protecting the species by 2012.  In 2007, following an initiative from the USFWS, the Legislature adopted a process for the preparation of a final recovery implementation plan for the species. That led to the creation of a group of diverse stakeholders whose completion of a consensus plan for species recovery is being recognized today by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Sierra Club was an active participant in that process.

Located at the edge of the Texas hill country, the Edwards Aquifer is considered one of the most biologically diverse aquifers in the world.  The Edwards Aquifer is home to species found nowhere else in the world, including eight species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.  This prolific aquifer is also the source of the two largest springs in Texas and perhaps the Southwestern US – the San Marcos and the Comal springs – which flow into the Guadalupe River, ultimately providing freshwater inflows to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Whooping Crane.

For over a century, the Edwards Aquifer has provided clean drinking water to more than 2 million residents of San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city, in addition to providing water for farming and ranching communities, the rapidly growing cities of New Braunfels and San Marcos, and communities downstream of the springs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Let’s talk about water!

The Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter proudly co-sponsored the Brazos Valley Water Conservation Symposium on June 20th. The event was co-sponsored with the City of Waco, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the Texas Water Foundation, the Brazos River Authority, and the National Wildlife Federation. Organized with the intent of educating individuals ranging from policy makers to water utility professionals, the meeting focused on the importance and benefits of practicing viable water conservation planning methods in the state of Texas.  The symposium, entitled “The Business Case for Water Conservation,” presented ways in which the region may meet its water needs through enhanced water conservation.

Ken Kramer kicking off the Brazos Valley Water Conservation Symposium

Toby Baker, the commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), addressed the immediate need to secure a reliable water supply for Texas stating that it cannot have growth without water availability. He talked about the potential for water conservation as a way to extend our water supply and then explained some of the issues surrounding water conservation. While TCEQ requires water providers to submit drought contingency plans, their capacity to enforce them is very limited. It is critical for water providers and state agencies to work together on conserving water as a way to extend our current water supply and better prepare for future droughts.

The Commissioner was then followed by Comer Tuck, director of the conservation division of the Texas Water Development Board. Mr. Tuck started by communicating to the audience that the year 2011 was the driest and hottest recoded in the history of Texas. Following a talk on the projected population increase, he spoke of the importance of funding the 2012 state water plan, a set of strategies that would help us meet the water demands of future Texans.

Carole Baker (Alliance for Water Efficiency and Texas Water Foundation) focused on myths related to the feasibility of performing water conservation. Common beliefs, such as water shortages being temporary problems that will disappear with time, do not reflect  their real nature. Instead, they are ongoing issues.  She then disproved the notion of current development being efficient by explaining that new properties use 20-60% more water. Ms. Baker concluded by clarifying that “wasting water is not economically feasible.”

Mark Peterson, coordinator for outdoor programs at the San Antonio Water System, spoke of the successful implementation of water conservation strategies in the City of San Antonio.  So what does it mean when it is said that the city is “on board” with conservation? It translates to meeting the water demands of a population 60% larger with the same amount of water supplied by the city during the 1980s.

Mr. Peterson explained that adopting the perspective of ongoing water conservation as being “a source of water” is crucial and that regulations are by no means a form of public punishment during dry times.  Another unique approach was perceiving customers as being part of San Antonio’s “conservation team“.  The reader should keep in mind that while water conservation practices in San Antonio are credited as being successful, the variability of the water sources and infrastructure of every water utility is different. That said, San Antonio can serve as a great model for other cities.

Lorrie Reeves, a representative of the Water Efficiency Network of North Texas, then talked about the benefits of creating local networks of water utility professionals and water conservation experts.  These networks consist of municipalities, water providers, and water conservation advocates that meet on a regular basis throughout the year. The purpose of these coalitions is to regionally reduce water use by working together to promote water efficiency education, programs, legislation and technologies and openly and actively share information and best practices. Through the networks, entities are able to efficiently share knowledge and exchange information. For example, by sharing strategies and goals with one another, the North Texas network  pooled their resources to educate the general public about irrigation strategies for clay soil (specific to the region).

Jennifer Walker leading the panel on the implementation of water conservation strategies in different Texas municipalities

While the success of water conservation programs and progress being made in numerous parts of the state of Texas  was apparent through the conference, the importance of coupling these programs and any restrictions with stronger education programs was a consistent theme that should be given future consideration.  Most water consumers do not understand the amount of water that is needed to keep a lawn healthy and often use too much, making it important to educate the public about the lack of need to irrigate extensively (Toby Baker).

-Hector Varela, Water Policy Intern

Special thanks to Jennifer Walker and Joanna Wolaver

High noon at the Sunset Review

Austin, TX – The Sunset Review process is in full swing at the state capitol. A great number of concerned individuals have provided personal testimonies about the environmental issues confronting the state. In the recent discussions, citizens highlighted the issues facing, in particular, San Antonio and New Braunfels in the form of proposed toll roads threatening the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, which provides water to two million Texans. In addition, countless people supported changing the commissioner structure of the TCEQ. The most popular proposal has been a single, state-wide elected commissioner. This would allow the citizens of Texas to choose their representative, instead of a using a board of appointed, puppet comissioners who serve as rubber stamp for industry. Others proposed a three-five member board of elected commissioners to ensure that the environmental agency is held accountable. Regardless of structure, TCEQ officials should be democratically elected in order to reflect the opinions of the people.

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