Judge green-lights water lawsuit

Jul 30, 2010 | The Herald-Zeitung by Greg Bowen | TAP In The News

A federal judge in Corpus Christi ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit attempting to re-allocate the waters of the Guadalupe River could continue to trial.
The lawsuit, filed by a coastal group known as the Aransas Project, seeks to ensure adequate water supplies for the endangered whooping crane by creating a federal management plan for Guadalupe River water supplies.

Environmental attorney Jim Blackburn of Houston, who represents the Aransas Project, said Wednesday’s ruling keeps the suit alive. “We’re elated,” Blackburn said.

U.S. District Court Judge Janis Graham Jack conducted oral hearings to consider motions to dismiss the suit. The motions to dismiss were filed by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, a major water supplier for the city of New Braunfels, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and others. “She basically ruled that there was no basis to dismiss,” Blackburn said. “Motions to dismiss are a major initial hurdle that all cases like this have to get past, so we’ve gotten a green light to proceed.”

GBRA spokeswoman LaMarriol Smith said the river authority now plans to “just proceed accordingly, going on the presumption that at this point we will go to trial.” The trial has been scheduled for March 2011.

Blackburn said Judge Jack “thinks we’ve got a legitimate claim. It’s up to us to prove it now. She wasn’t convinced that any state process could protect the whopping crane.”

In local discussions recently, both Comal County and the city of New Braunfels joined in support of GBRA and others fighting the suit, saying the suit, if successful, could result in a loss of water rights for the area, harm endangered species in Comal Springs and cause severe economic and social hardship locally. According to New Braunfels Utilities, 30 percent of the city’s total water supply could be at risk with the changes in the water-allocation process being sought by the Aransas Project. City Attorney Alan Wayland has said the city’s opposition to the suit is based on the proposition that the TCEQ already attempts to ensure the adequate flow of fresh water into the coastal bays and estuaries to sustain the habitat of the whooping crane.

GBRA General Manager Bill West has said the suit puts at risk the 90,000 acre-feet of Canyon Lake water supplies controlled by the river authority. Comal County Commissioner Donna Eccleston and County Judge Danny Scheel have said they don’t feel comfortable with a federal judge deciding how Texas should distribute its water supplies.

West also has said he believes the real reason behind the suit is not to protect the endangered whooping crane, but to choke off water supplies to the proposed Excelon nuclear plant in Victoria County.

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