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More than 1.7 million Texans and at least eight endangered species depend upon the aquifer.
“The aquifer recovery program’s emphasis is on using sound science and adaptive management to form effective solutions that reflect community values,” said Sen. Glenn Hegar, author of the recovery plan portion of the bill.
“A scientifically-based approach to balance competing water interests is vital for achieving a consensus to resolve the continuing wars that have plagued the region for years,” Hegar said. “I truly believe that we must work together, as a region, to solve this complex and contentious issue. We must develop the science to answer these critical water questions and everyone needs to be at the table as this scientific based solution is developed and ultimately implemented.”
“We’ve already met the legislature’s first four directives – all which were related to developing the organizational structure which will lead us to initiating action toward a plan to balance the needs of aquifer stakeholders with those of the Endangered Species Act,” said Robert Gulley, PhD, program manager with the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural resources.
Gulley serves as the program’s director and coordinates the input of a steering committee selected by the legislature. The committee represents state agencies, area water authorities and districts, those involved in industry, recreation, those with environmental interests and others with a stake in aquifer management and use.
“The early progress of the program is a sign that stakeholders of diverse interests from across our region can and will come together for the greater good of our shared water resource,” stated Doug Miller, chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority board of directors. “Finding solutions that meet the competing water needs of our region and the safeguards needed to protect the aquifer as a natural resource is vital to our mission.”
While the steering committee has responsibility for the development of the plan, others will have the opportunity to make their voices heard.
“There’s much more work to do, but we’re on track and already making good progress toward bringing people together to develop a fair and comprehensive plan for future aquifer use that also meets the needs of threatened and endangered species,” Gulley said.
So far, about 30 individuals, agencies, private and public businesses and others have signed a memorandum of agreement to work together in good faith and cooperation to further the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program.
Earlier this month, the steering committee and other stakeholders satisfied the legislature’s deadline for entering into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the development of a plan. The service is responsible for protecting the threatened and endangered species residing in the aquifer and the springs fed by the aquifer.
“The Service is very supportive of this collaborative process to bring partners together to balance future water development and management with actions that contribute to species recovery,” said Adam Zerrenner, supervisor of its Austin Ecological Services office and representative to the recovery implementation program. “It will provide technical assistance and support to the program as it works to develop a habitat conservation plan and implements actions that contribute to species recovery.”
The most recent accomplishment of the program has been the formation of a seven-member expert science panel consisting of biologists and hydrologists representing state and federal agencies, academia, private businesses and other entities. The panel will provide scientific input for the program’s long-term aquifer recovery plan.
Up to eight additional professionals proficient in the sciences may be added to the panel, which will be assisted by the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and the River Institute.
“These people have met and are beginning the initial organizational work to allow them to begin their scientific assessment,” said Susan Aragon-Long of the U.S. Geological Survey, the science panel chair.
The deadline for final development of an implementation plan is Dec.31, 2012.
“I am pleased with the progress that has been made thus far, meeting the early legislative deadlines, and I am confident that as the group continues to work together, a consensus based solution can be achieved,” Hegar said. “I am very grateful for the patience, dedication and hard work that all the participants have shown over the last year as they work together for the benefit of the entire region.”