Aransas Project’s plans updated

Feb 11, 2010 | Rockport Pilot by Mike Probst | TAP In The News

Ronald B. Outen, Ph.D, the regional director of the Aransas Project, made a presentation to the Rockport City Council during its Jan. 26 monthly workshop regarding the work and goals of the organization.

The Aransas Project is focused on the water management policy of the Guadalupe River Basin (GRB) because of the policy’s effect on the endangered whooping crane, as well as game fish and other aquatic life.

Outen said on Dec. 8 Aransas Project filed a notice of intent to sue based on its belief the 2008-09 drought, which was exacerbated by GRB policies, resulted in the “illegal take” of whooping cranes.

He began his presentation noting the health and productivity of area bays is essential to the economic vitality of Aransas County.

Outen said last year’s drought, and the resulting high salinity in San Antonio Bay, as well as surrounding bays, led to the depletion of the blue crab population, a primary food source for whooping cranes.

“We lost (almost nine percent) of the flock last year,” said Outen. “The whooping cranes, trout and redfish all eat from the same ecosystem.”

He said there is simply not enough fresh water reaching the bay, and the consequences of that are only exacerbated during drought periods.

Outen showed graphs which pointed to a correlation between high (whooping crane) mortality rates and low freshwater inflow.

He noted models showing resulting salinity levels based on natural flow, current diversions, and full use of existing permits have been created.

“The models show as drought increases so does the high salinity water in San Antonio Bay, and down to Port Aransas,” said Outen. “If (there is) full use of the existing permits it (salinity levels) will be even more dramatic.

“As time goes by and there is more population growth then the problem (gets worse).

“Drought is not just little rain, but also overuse (of the water in the GRB).”

He noted there is no mechanism within the management of the GRB to ensure the protection of the endangered whooping crane.

Since the whooping crane is federally protected, it is illegal to take, harm or harass it.

Aransas Project contends the water management practices in the GRB exacerbated the drought conditions resulting in the taking (deaths) of whooping cranes last year.

“Our objective is to create a set of conditions which will cause the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to force a better water management plan,” said Outen.

He asked the City to consider joining the Aransas Project, noting Aransas County, the Aransas County Navigation District, and the Town of Fulton are members.

Outen said Senate Bill 3 only addresses future permits in the GRB, not existing permits, and there is already a problem with the amount of water extracted from the GRB, even though all current permits aren’t being utilized.

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