Edwards Aquifer RIP committee approves plan
The documents written by Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) stakeholders for a management and funding plan to protect the Edwards Aquifer were approved by the vote of the EARIP steering committee at a Nov. 7 meeting in Seguin. The plan contributes to a stable water supply for the region while protecting the endangered species and was approved on a vote of 24-1, with one abstention.
"This is a historic decision," said Jerry James, stakeholder representing the City of Victoria.
The EARIP protection plan marks the first time that area stakeholders have reached a consensus resolution to the regional conflicts between species protection and Edwards Aquifer pumping that have existed for decades. The plan and supporting documents will be presented as recommendations to the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) Board of Directors in December.
Under state law, the EAA must implement a program by Dec. 31, 2012 to ensure that continuous minimum springflows of the Comal and San Marcos springs are maintained to protect listed species as required by federal law. The EAA must review the EARIP recommendations and may use the EARIP documents as the basis for its required protection programs. The plan will then be submitted to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval.
EAA's General Manager Karl Dreher spoke to the EARIP stakeholders Monday, saying that the long-term drought forecast means that EAA must begin implementing the projects in the EARIP plan rapidly, perhaps even before the entire plan is approved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This approval by the federal agency is anticipated by fall 2012.
The two major projects in the plan include paying farmers who sign up for a voluntary irrigation suspension program, and placing additional water in the Carrizo Aquifer Storage and Recovery project in which SAWS currently has some water stored. Many other measures, including habitat improvements in the Comal and San Marcos springs, municipal conservation programs, and a Stage 5 pumping cutback as a last resort, are included in the plan. Further study over the next seven years will determine whether these measures are sufficient to protect the listed species, and if not, what additional methods would be most effective.
The EARIP is a collaborative, consensus-based, regional stakeholder process tasked by the Texas Legislature with the development of a plan to help recovery of the federally-protected species by September 2012. EARIP stakeholders include water utilities, cities, groundwater conservation districts, agricultural users, industrial users, environmental organizations, individuals, river authorities, downstream and coastal communities, and state and federal agencies.