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Page 12 Medina Valley Times Thursday, February 21, 2013

EAA's plan for conservation causing consternation EAA heads laud plan as major milestone while local officials feel it's unnecessary burden on citizens Alicia Ramirez Staff Writer Th e Edwards Aquifer Authority’s Habitat Conservation Plan has been approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and will officially go into effect late next month, even though the EAA has already increased the aquifer management fee to pay for the plan. “It is a significant milestone in the history of the Edwards issues that have been ongoing now for decades,” said EAA General Manager Roland Ruiz. “It was 20 years ago when a federal judge, Lucius Bunton, basically issued a decree to do something and manage this aquifer in a manner that complies with federal law with the Endangered Species Act and if you don’t, we will. So, 20 years later, we finally have the answer that satisfies that decree.” The biggest change that people of Medina County will see already went into effect roughly 18 months ago when the EAA implemented the higher AMF that caused a trickle down effect to the customers who now have to pay more to use the same amount of water. “We assumed that it would be approved and it doesn’t change much for the city of Hondo and the western counties, but it continues to put a lot of the burden on us from the standpoint of fees to take care of the flow up in New Braunfels and San Marcos,” said Hondo Mayor James Danner. “It’s not a good deal for us, but I guess we’re stuck with it.” Danner is not the only official that is unhappy with the way the plan has been implemented up to this point with a major increase in the AMF for those in the western part of the EAA’s district. “I don’t like the way that it ended up in that the west-

ern counties on the Edwards Aquifer are getting the short end of the stick on this and I was an alternate on one of the groups and I had my say to them that the western communities need a little bit different set of rules than the folks on the east side of the aquifer because they get considerably more rain than we do and the majority of them have additional resources for water, like surface water, which we don’t,” Castroville Mayor Bob Lee said. “We’re solely dependent on the aquifer.” Lee said that he also recommended to the group that it find alternatives to funding the program without having to raise the AMF to $84 per acre-foot like it was for municipalities such as Hondo and Castroville with $37 per acre foot going to fund the HCP, but found the EAA was not receptive, while other mayors felt the increase was unfair to their residents. “With 36 percent of the people of Devine below the poverty level, every increase hurts someone,” said Devine Mayor Bill Herring. “The whole thing just doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t understand how these endangered species have survived since the beginning of time. This is not the first drought we have had since God created the world, and they survived before, but now we have to spend all of these millions and millions of dollars to make sure they survive.” Programmatically, after the HCP goes into effect, the critical period management plan will add Stage 5 restrictions that will limit pumping by 45 percent for the San Antonio pool when the threshold is met, instead of stopping at Stage 4. This potentially means that Uvalde County, which is currently in Stage 4 water restrictions, could be the

“I just really don’t like any of this. I think every mayor in Medina County feels that way and there’s really nothing we can do about it.” -Bill Herring, Devine mayor

“We assumed that it would be approved and it doesn’t change much for the city of Hondo and the western counties, but it continues to put a lot of the burden on us from the standpoint of fees to take care of the flow up in New Braunfels and San Marcos. It’s not a good deal for us, but I guess we’re stuck with it.” -James Danner, Hondo mayor

“It appears to me that we’ll have to eat the food that we’ve been given. That’s kind of what it appears to be.” -Bob Lee, Castroville mayor first to see Stage 5. “We’re still in Stage 1 for the San Antonio pool and once the pumping gears back up especially with the farming operations, we’re likely to see it dip and we’ll probably be back at Stage 2 and the warmer and drier it stays, it’s very likely that we’re going to be in similar situations to what we were in last year and if we don’t have rain, perhaps even worse,” said Ruiz. “You’re going to see more of an impact with the current drought than what you will see come from the HCP this year.” The other major components of the HCP that will, in the event of a repeat of the drought of record, affect Medina County are the Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Program and the San Antonio Water Systems Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program. “You won’t see immediate impacts because the

VISPO program is one of those programs that is targeted towards taking effect in a repeat of the drought of record so you’re going to see the effects there when we get to the most dire situations, so that’s a forward looking type of program, the same as the SAWS aquifer storage and recovery program,” Ruiz said. “We’ve already started the process of leasing water from permit holders and the plan is to take that leased water, put it into the SAWS ASR project and have it there when we do hit the worst times and SAWS in turn will mitigate their pumping by relying on the HCP water that’s in the ASR.” While the ASR and VISPO will benefit the entire region during a repeat of the drought of record, the biggest benefit of the HCP is for the endangered species that only reside in the San Marcos and Comal Springs

as well as those downstream who will benefit from the increased water flow in those springs, but Ruiz said that for Medina County, the biggest benefit is certainty. “We now know that we will continue to have local control over that water use as opposed to having a federal court come in and tell us that you have to do something different and that’s the greatest certainty,” he said. “Cities like Castroville for example can plan for their future water with a greater sense of certainty that their Edwards rights have more certainty in them and that the water they have is going to be there for their use within the limitations of cutbacks due to drought, but that’s really the biggest thing, the economic certainty that they have now in the Edwards rights that the various users across the region have.” While the HCP will address the concerns that arise during a repeat of the drought of record, Ruiz admitted that it does not give the EAA any answers for the current ongoing drought that the area is experienc-

ing. “Now that we have an approved HCP and many conservation measures in there, the question at the forefront right now is what are we going to see this year because we’re already in a drought and how are we going to manage through this year and that’s something that the HCP really doesn’t contemplate,” Ruiz said. “It’s more of a longterm drought and so we’re probably looking at this year having critical period cutbacks.” While EAA board chairman Luana Buckner praised the approval as a “momentous occasion” in a press release issued by the EAA, elected officials from across the county are not at all happy about the decision by the FWS. “I just really don’t like any of this,” said Herring. “I think every mayor in Medina County feels that way and there’s really nothing we can do about it.” “It appears to me that we’ll have to eat the food that we’ve been given,” said Lee. “That’s kind of what it appears to be.”

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Mvt 12 eaa's plan for conservation