SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Quit overextending the river

Jan 15, 2010 | San Antonio Express-News by Jim Blackburn | TAP In The News

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A recent Express News editorial suggests that The Aransas Project’s intent to file a federal lawsuit to protect the endangered whooping crane and the Guadalupe River Basin constitutes “a startling case of irresponsibly bad timing.”

As the attorney for The Aransas Project (TAP), I would like to offer several important facts omitted from the editorial to assist the readers of this paper in making their own determination about what constitutes responsible action in managing the water resources of the Guadalupe River Basin.

First and foremost, the Guadalupe River Basin is already overpermitted and overcommitted. In a region with water shortages, permits for massive quantities of water continue to be requested and granted to the detriment of all of us.

A second and critically related fact is that neither of the regional processes referenced in the editorial, the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Plan (EARIP) or the environmental flows process established under Senate Bill 3 (SB3), have the ability to affect existing surface water rights in the Guadalupe River Basin.

The EARIP is directed toward ensuring adequate flows from the aquifer to protect endangered species that depend upon its flows. Even if the increased flows from these springs are secured, the EARIP cannot guarantee that downstream water rights holders won’t divert those flows and again deprive the bays of crucial freshwater inflows. Moreover, the EARIP currently excludes the whooping crane and the Guadalupe River and San Antonio bay from its scope.

While the EARIP suffers from a limitation in scope, the SB3 environmental flows process lacks any legal authority to address existing water rights in already over-allocated Guadalupe River Basin. The environmental flow standards that will eventually be established under the SB3 process only apply to new requests for water rights, not existing water rights.

The perverse result is that massive allocations of billions of gallons of water continue to be made from the already over-allocated Guadalupe River Basin, thereby creating additional water rights beyond the reach of these regional processes.

Is it “responsible” to make a deal with Exelon to reserve more than 24 billion gallons of water annually from an overallocated basin for its proposed nuclear plant near Victoria? Is it “responsible” to site the most water intensive form of energy generation in this parched basin? Is it “responsible” to allow the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to seek new permits from this same basin for 189,484 acre-feet of un-appropriated flows of the Guadalupe River in Calhoun County?

In resorting to the remedies afforded by the Endangered Species Act, The Aransas Project has not ignored regional processes or “sought to impose its will.” To the contrary, we have taken the only responsible course of action left to us.

By filing its notice of intent to sue, TAP hopes that the State of Texas and other stakeholders will recognize and take immediate steps to correct the inherent flaws in the existing processes. We welcome the opportunity to work with state and federal officials and interested stakeholders to achieve this goal which will ultimately benefit not only the endangered whooping crane, but all Texans who depend upon this critical resource.

Jim Blackburn is an attorney for The Aransas Project, an alliance seeking responsible water management of the Guadalupe River Basin and bays.

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