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Proposed Rule Fails to Protect Central Texas Rivers and Bays
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed a rule on Friday, April 13th that will determine the amount of water that must remain flowing in Central and South Central Texas rivers and into the region’s bays to sustain fish and wildlife populations. Unfortunately, this rule fails to include many of the protections recommended by the region’s stakeholder committees, leaving fish, oysters, whooping cranes and other wildlife high and dry. However, the good news is that there is still time to improve the rule by voicing support for stronger flow protections to the TCEQ Commissioners during the public comment period, which runs from now until May 14, 2012.
A Little Background
In 2007, the Texas Legislature acknowledged the need to protect water for fish and wildlife with the passage of Senate Bill 3. This landmark bill recognized the critical role environmental flows play in maintaining the ecological health and productivity of Texas rivers and estuaries and the economic factors associated with them. It set in motion a stakeholder process to create flow standards for each of Texas’s major river basins and associated bays that would be applied to any new water permits that are granted.
Under this law, the state appoints a committee of stakeholders for each region that includes representatives from a diverse set of interests including river authorities, municipalities, industries, environmental interests, regional water planning groups, commercial and recreational fishermen, agricultural interests and others. Each committee, with assistance from their science advisors, is tasked with developing consensus-based recommendations for flow standards that find an appropriate balance between protecting the environment and providing for human water needs in the basin. These recommendations are then submitted to TCEQ, which has one year to consider them and adopt rules for the region.
Stakeholders Recommend Balanced Protections
In September 2011, the stakeholder groups for the Central and South Central Texas regions – the Colorado and Lavaca Rivers/Matagorda and Lavaca Bays committee and Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers/San Antonio Bay System committee – submitted flow recommendations to TCEQ that provide a reasonable level of protection for fish and wildlife while also allowing for future uses of water to provide for human needs.
Developing these recommendations was no small feat, as noted in a recent San Antonio-Express News opinion piece. For one, striking a balance between the needs of fish and wildlife and future human water supply demands is never an easy task. Making matters more difficult, these committees were faced with the reality that much of the water flowing in these region’s rivers has already been permitted for use with little or no consideration of the impacts on fish and wildlife.
Despite these challenges, after months of deliberation and compromise, the Colorado/Lavaca stakeholder committee unanimously approved flow recommendations that struck a reasonable balance. The Guadalupe/San Antonio comittee also developed comprehensive recommendations, endorsed by a super-majority vote of 21 to 3.
Proposed Rules Beg for Improvement
To the frustration of the vast majority of the stakeholders, the rule proposed by TCEQ for Central and South Central Texas rivers and bays fails to incorporate key aspects of the stakeholder recommendations with insufficient explanation from agency staff as to why those key aspects where left out. This leaves the region’s fish and wildlife populations at risk. Fortunately, the public comment process provides an opportunity to improve these flow standards before they are adopted by the three TCEQ Commissioners in August.
We urge you to join the National Wildlife Federation and our Texas Living Waters Project partners in asking the Commissioners to safeguard Central Texas’s fish and wildlife populations – and the jobs that depend on them – by strengthening the proposed rule. TCEQ is accepting comments on the rule until May 14, 2012. Send them a letter today through our alert system.
For more information on environmental flows and other Texas water issues, visit www.TexasWaterMatters.org.