Habitat Conservation Plan

For more information about the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan, visit www.eahcp.org.

A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) approved by the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) Board of Directors in December is intended to resolve the longstanding conflict between the federal mandate to protect threatened and endangered species associated with the Edwards Aquifer and the region’s dependence on the same aquifer as its primary water resource.

The Texas Legislature established a stakeholder group known as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) Steering Committee in 2007, and assigned it the task of developing the HCP for the EAA board’s consideration. The HCP identifies certain conservation measures developed and agreed to by the EARIP group to protect the threatened and endangered species whose only habitats are found in the Edwards Aquifer-fed Comal and San Marcos springs. The goal of the HCP is to protect those species from harm during the most severe drought to the extent required by state law (Edwards Aquifer Authority Act) and federal law (Endangered Species Act).

The HCP and an accompanying application for an incidental take permit have been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for review and consideration. Approval of the HCP by USFWS and its implementation by signatories to the HCP – the EAA, the City of New Braunfels, the City of San Marcos, the City of San Antonio through SAWS, Texas State University – San Marcos, and Texas Parks and Wildlife –would shield the region from litigation under the Endangered Species Act if harm were to come to the protected species. As a result, the region would avoid federal intervention and the associated uncertainty of water availability from the aquifer in the event any harm comes to the species. Therefore, holders of EAA groundwater permits would have unprecedented assurance that they would be able to rely on their Edwards water rights for the term of the HCP, which is 15 years.

Listed below are several frequently asked questions concerning the HCP.

Why is the EAA implementing a Habitat Conservation Plan?

The EAHCP is an effort to balance the need to protect threatened and endangered species who are known to only exist in the Edwards Aquifer and springs fed by that Aquifer and the region’s reliance on the same aquifer for its water needs.

The Edwards Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for approximately 2 million people in the region. Spring outflows from the aquifer also provide habitat to eight aquatic species listed as threatened or endangered, and therefore protected by the Endangered Species Act. In 1993, in response to a lawsuit filed under the Endangered Species Act, a federal judge ordered the State of Texas to take the necessary actions to protect the listed species. This ruling led to the creation of the EAA and, eventually, the EARIP, which developed the EAHCP. The HCP outlines conservation measures designed to protect the species during the drought of record to the extent required by law.

As the regulatory agency for Edwards Aquifer groundwater, it is important and necessary that the EAA stay actively involved in the protection of aquifer dependent species as required by State law.

Who Does This Affect?

The HCP identifies conservation measures that are to be implemented by the Permittees to ensure efficient aquifer use and management within the EAA boundaries to protect species from "take" resulting from recreation, pumping, and other aquifer/spring use including during severe drought. The costs associated with implementation of this program is funded through the assessment of a program aquifer management fee on EAA municipal and industrial permit holders.  Additional funding is provided from downstream interests including the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, the San Antonio River Authority, the City of Victoria, the City of San Antonio's City Public Service Board, the Guadalupe Basin Coalition, Union Carbide, and the Nueces River Authority.

Residents and visitors to the San Marcos and Comal River systems may see activity occurring along the banks of the rivers that are related to HCP implementation. In both San Marcos and New Braunfels, signage along the river identifies the various activities that are taking place and in most cases also provides an explanation about what benefit the activity will have on local eco-systems.

Several programs included in the EAHCP may also affect Edwards Aquifer permit holders. The San Antonio Water System Aquifer Storage and Recovery Program is seeking leases for up to 50,000 acre-feet of water to support that program.  Another program, the Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Option (VISPO) compensates irrigation permit holders to not pump in drought conditions in an effort to maintain aquifer levels.

Edwards Aquifer Permit holders will also be impacted by the addition of a new stage of critical period management. Stage V Critical Period Management which became effective with the issuance of the ITP on March 18, 2013 requires 44% pumping reductions when aquifer levels reach designated levels. Triggers for Stage V for the San Antonio Pool are when the ten-day average at J-17 is <625' (MSL), or springflow at the Comal River drops below 45cfs on a ten-day average or 40cfs on a three-day average. For the Uvalde Pool, Stage V is triggered when J-27 is <840' (MSL).

How long will the Habitat Conservation Plan be implemented?

The current Incidental Take Permit is for a 15-year period that includes a two-phased implementation strategy. Phase I (seven years--commencing March 18, 2013) involves habitat and springflow protection measures. It also involves data collection, extensive research,  and monitoring to make necessary changes in order to achieve specific goals. Phase II (eight years) will further implement these measures or if necessary, modify them through an adaptive management process based on the information learned during Phase I.

For additional questions, please contact a member of our team at (210) 222-2204 or (800) 292-1047 or email info@eahcp.org.