CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES

Aransas Project lawsuit blaming state for whooping crane die-off goes to trial Monday

Dec 6, 2011 | Corpus Christi Caller-Times by David Sikes | TAP In The News

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CORPUS CHRISTI — The state’s river water management is being challenged by an Aransas County group that claims the state is partially to blame for a 2009 whooping crane die off.

The Aransas Project, a nonprofit group that advocates responsible water management for the Guadalupe River, filed a federal lawsuit last year claiming the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality violated the Endangered Species Act by not providing adequate freshwater inflow from the river basin into San Antonio Bay system.

The organization claims the commission’s mismanagement resulted in harm to the last wild flock of endangered whooping cranes, which spend each winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The trial is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. today at the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi. Attorneys expect the trial to last about two weeks.

Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn Jr., who will argue the case on behalf of The Aransas Project, said the state Legislature has failed to address the issue of getting enough freshwater to the state’s bays.

“Unfortunately it may take an endangered species to get their attention,” he said. “The state has failed. The court is the last remaining hope for a solution. I wish it hadn’t come to this. But its our only hope for getting water to our bays.”

The refuge’s winter population of more than 200 whoopers lost 23 birds during the 2008-09 drought, in part, biologists say, because its main food source, the blue crab, was severely depleted because of the lack of freshwater.

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