Whooping cranes at center of water dispute

Nov 29, 2011 | Houston Chronicle by Matthew Tresaugue | TAP In The News

The whooping crane, the majestic bird slowly making its way back from the brink of extinction, is returning to the Texas coast in record numbers.

This could be a hard winter for the endangered species, however, because of a wicked drought and one of the most contentious water disputes in Texas.

The stubborn dry spell has reduced the flow of fresh water into the tidal pools and marshes where the tall birds congregate. Some biologists say the conditions remind them of late 2008, the beginning of the deadliest winter on record for the flock.

As many as 23 cranes perished then because of starvation or related problems – a die-off that prompted a legal fight over how much water is needed to sustain the species.

The federal case, which pits local governments and environmentalists against state regulators and water suppliers, is scheduled to go to trial Monday in Corpus Christi. The Aransas Project, an environmental coalition, has accused the state of putting the endangered species in harm’s way with its management of the fresh water flowing into the birds’ habitat.

“The future of the whooping crane hangs on the outcome of the trial,” said Jim Blackburn, the Houston attorney for the Aransas Project. “Federal intervention is the only chance for its long-term survival.”

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