The 1950s drought of record was so catastrophic, one Texas water official described it as “the most costly and one of the most devastating droughts in 600 years.” A “billion-dollar cure” was needed for the state to recover.
On August 17, 1956, historic record low of 612.5 feet was reported at the J-17 index well in San Antonio of the Edwards Aquifer. This drought not only ignited the modern era of water planning in Texas, it created the need for regulation of the aquifer. In 1959, the Texas Legislature created the Edwards Underground Water District to “conserve, preserve and protect” the Edwards Aquifer; however, it was not afforded any regulatory powers.
The 1973 Act implemented the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (T.I.A.S. 8249), signed by the United States on March 3, 1973, and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (50 Stat. 1354), signed by the United States on October 12, 1940. Through federal action and by encouraging the establishment of state programs, the 1973 Endangered Species Act provided for the conservation of ecosystems upon which threatened and endangered species of fish, wildlife, and plants depend.
The Edwards was designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “sole source aquifer” under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as the sole or principal source of drinking water for the San Antonio area. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “sole source aquifer”_1975)
In May the Sierra Club files a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), citing negligence to provide the necessary protection required by the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit seeks to require the USFWS to ensure minimum springflows from the Edwards Aquifer fed Comal and San Marcos springs to protect endangered species.
U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton issues a ruling in the Sierra Club lawsuit in favor of the plaintiff and orders that: springflow must be maintained; the Texas Water Commission must submit a plan to the court by March 1, 1993, to assure that Comal and San Marcos springs will not drop below jeopardy levels; the USFWS must develop springflow thresholds for “take” and “jeopardy” at Comal and San Marcos springs by mid-March; and the Texas State Legislature must put into place a regulatory system to limit withdrawals from the Edwards Aquifer by May 31 or he will allow the plaintiffs to seek additional relief. The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) is created May 30 by the passage of Senate Bill Number 1477 (“EAA Act” or “the Act”) which was scheduled to become effective on September 1. The bill established a nine-member appointed board and abolished the Edwards Underground Water District and its 12-member elected body. The EAA Act was unique in that it required comprehensive regulation to protect the water rights of permit holders and to preserve the aquifer for all those that depended upon it. However, implementation of the EAA Act was put on hold by the U.S. Department of Justice, which ruled that it violated the Voting Rights Act.
The Pucek Catfish Farm lawsuit is settled. The accompanying YouTube video provides more insight into the history of the Catfish Farm.
The EAA Temporary Board of Directors, established by HB 3189, held its first organizational meeting Sept. 8, 1995. Members of the Temporary Board included Phil Barshop; Ralph Zendejas; Mike Beldon; Rosa Maria Gonzales; John Sanders; Sylvia Ruiz Mendelsohn; Joe Bernal; Oliver R. Martin; A. O. Gilliam; Bruce Gilleland; Rogelio Munoz; Doug Miller; Paula DiFonzo; Mack Martinez; Jane Hughson; Bob Keith, and Rodney Reagan. Ms. Hughson initially chaired the meeting, until Mike Beldon was duly elected the chair of the EAA board.
House Bill Number 3189 is signed into law, revising the governance portion of the EAA Act to comply with the Voting Rights Act by having an elected board. To begin managing the aquifer, the bill creates a 15-member temporary board which would ultimately transition to a 17-member permanent board, with 15 of those members elected from single-member districts and two appointed members. The U.S. Department of Justice pre-clears the state legislation, effectively clearing the way for the EAA to begin operation on September 1. The Medina County Groundwater Conservation District and others file suit in district court on August 23 challenging the constitutionality of the EAA Act. State District Judge Mickey Pennington rules that the law creating the EAA is unconstitutional stating that the legislation to regulate pumping violates landowners’ property rights, impairs their ability to honor contracts, is applied unequally and is illegally retroactive. The case is ultimately appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
The EAA officially began operations.
The EAA becomes fully operational on June 28, when the Texas Supreme Court unanimously overturns the district court ruling finding that the EAA Act is constitutional. During the summer, Texas experiences a severe drought. Many municipal water purveyors do not have adequate supplies for their customers. The first election for the EAA Board of Directors is held on November 5. The first 15 elected EAA directors and two newly-appointed directors receive the oath of office and are seated as members of the board on December 10. The EAA Board of Directors holds its first meeting. Mike Beldon is elected chairman. December 30 is the deadline to file an application for an Initial Regular Permit (IRP) and Declaration of Historical Use.
In December Luana Buckner is sworn into office.
The EAA board approves the first Aquifer Management Fees (AMF) on June 10 with a rate of $11 per acre-foot for municipal and industrial users and $2 per acre-foot for irrigators.
In 1997, the Authority initiated the Edwards Aquifer Well Metering Program, which requires meters for all municipal, industrial, and irrigation wells in the Edwards Aquifer. Since 1998, the Authority has utilized well pumpage data from the Well Metering Program to estimate well discharge. The availability of direct pumpage data has significantly improved the discharge estimating process.
The EAA adopts the Groundwater Management Plan required by all underground water conservation districts and approved by the Texas Water Development Board every five years, on the plan’s anniversary.
In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the Comal Springs riffle beetle (Heterelmis comalensis), Comal Springs dryopid beetle (Stygoparnus comalensis), and Peck’s Cave amphipod (Stygobromus pecki) as endangered in the Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs systems under the Endangered Species Act.
EAA adopts emergency rules for permits and drought management.
The first IRP was issued January 9 to the Stein family in Medina County for 224 acre-feet of groundwater permitted for irrigation use.
A well permitting system was introduced, requiring all new wells drilled in the Edwards Aquifer to have a well construction permit.
The EAA implements a Critical Period Management (CPM) Plan to help sustain aquifer and springflow levels. This program helps slow the rate of decline in aquifer levels and spring discharges during periods of little or no rain by reducing the amount of groundwater permit holders may withdraw.
On October 8, the EAA adopts rules that prohibit any new underground fuel storage tanks on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone to protect water quality. New Critical Period Management (CPM) rules are also adopted.
In December, the EAA Board issued its first “interim proportional adjustment order” to ensure that the total of all of the issued initial regular permits did not exceed the then-applicable 450,000 acre-foot per year “cap” in 2004.
The EAA issued its Comprehensive Water Management Plan for the Aquifer required by the EAA Act.
In March, the EAA submits a partially completed draft of a plan to protect the threatened and endangered species of the Edwards Aquifer and their habitat to the USFWS for comment.
In October, the USFWS made a presentation to the EAA Board about the possibility of performing a “recovery implementation program” for the endangered and threatened species associated with Edwards and the Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs systems.
In February, an informal stakeholder meeting is held to begin discussions of a Recovery Implementation Program. In May, the Texas Legislature adopts Senate Bill No. 3, an omnibus water bill that, among other things, amends the EAA Act. SB3 raises the region’s pumping cap from 450,000 to 572,000 acre-feet per year in an acknowledgement of historical aquifer users’ withdrawal rights; places a critical period management plan into statute; and creates an Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) as a stakeholder-driven process to identify long-term recommendations for protecting the endangered species with the goal of securing an incidental take permit from USFWS.
EARIP deliberations occur at least monthly with work products and processes including:
- Creation of an expert science committee
- Creation of a recharge feasibility committee to consider new/enhanced recharge facilities;
- Consideration of whether to create a separate San Marcos pool
- A study on the necessity of maintaining minimum springflows
- Determining the appropriate short-term, mid-range, and long-term average springflow requirements
- A study on San Marcos trigger levels for drought restrictions
- Numerous model runs conducted to determine if springflow goals could be achieved through drought restrictions alone
- Various engineered solutions were also investigated
- Determination of Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as the appropriate instrument to achieve Endangered Species Act compliance
- Created list of mitigation measures and estimated expenses for the 15-year term of HCP; and
- Developed governance structure of the HCP and appropriate binding documents
Federal Register Notice of the development of the EAHCP
In December, after previously being approved by the City of San Marcos, Texas State University, the City of New Braunfels, and the San Antonio Water System, the EAA Board approved the EARIP “program documents,” and the multi-party Joint Funding Agreement.
The EAHCP Funding and Management Agreement became effective. In January, an application for an incidental take permit for the EAHCP was filed with the USFWS by the EAA, the San Antonio Water System, City of New Braunfels, City of San Marcos, and Texas State University. The EAHCP Implementing Committee conducted its first organizational meeting.
In March, the multi-party Joint Funding Agreement for the Implementation of the Habitat Conservation Plan for the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program became effective.
In June, EAHCP Stakeholders Committee conducted its first organizational meeting.
The Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) is a collaborative initiative among EAHCP stakeholders to participate in efforts to contribute to the recovery of the Edwards Species, develop aquifer management measures, and develop conservation measures for the Edwards Aquifer.
In December, the USFWS issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement – Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program Habitat Conservation Plan relative to the EAHCP ITP application.
The EAA Board approved a Joint Funding Agreement with the Nueces River Authority to provide additional funding for the implementation of the EAHCP. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued its Record of Decision – Edwards Aquifer Authority Recovery Implementation Program Habitat Conservation Plan Issuance of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for Federally Listed Threatened and Endangered Species in Texas relative to the ITP application.
The USFWS issues Incidental Take Permit (ITP) on March 19. The 15-year ITP enables the EAA, SAWS, the City of New Braunfels, the City of San Marcos and Texas State University (the applicants) to restore and enhance habitats for eight threatened and endangered species while simultaneously implementing water conservation measures that will ensure freshwater flows that support both native wildlife and the area’s regional economy, including Stage V CPM. Additionally, two of the springflow protection measures — Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Program Option (VISPO) and Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) leasing — begin implementation.
In May, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1241, which improved the EAA’s administration of its permitting program by repealing the prohibition on exempt wells being located within subdivisions requiring platting and created a new category of “limited production” exempt wells.
The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) Steward is a monthly newsletter highlighting the collaborative efforts to protect the threatened and endangered species that inhabit the Edwards Aquifer and to ensure a healthy habitat within the Comal and San Marcos spring systems. Each newsletter features a story about a conservation activity, contractor, volunteer organization, or dedicated individual working to support and/or implement EAHCP conservation measures.
VISPO is a unique initiative of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) for irrigation users who wish to help protect springflow for federally listed threatened and endangered species. The VISPO Program is an irrigation suspension program and compensates enrolled irrigation permit holders for being enrolled in the program but it also pays an additional suspension rate in years where irrigation suspension is required.
The Edwards Aquifer Conservancy is created June 3 to support and benefit the work of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, including the establishment of programs and practices that protect habitat and species, sustain agricultural practices, promote water conservation and support the development of water management solutions within the Edwards Aquifer region.
On October 1, the maximum daily well level at Well J-17 in Bexar County was measured at equal to or less than 635 feet mean sea level, thus triggering VISPO forbearance. The EAA’s General Manager issued a Notice of Commencement of a Forbearance Year for VISPO program enrollees to take effect on January 1, 2015 for the calendar year 2015.
The VISPO program exceeds its enrollment goal of 40,000 acre-feet. The ASR leasing program struggles for participation.
In January, all VISPO participants (40,921 acre-feet of enrolled permitted rights) were required to forbear from making any withdrawals from the Aquifer from their enrolled Edwards permits during the entirety of calendar year 2015.
In March, the National Academy of Sciences published its Review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan Report 1 in which it reviewed the scientific efforts of the EAHCP and provided an evaluation and recommendations on how such efforts might be strengthened.
After exceeding its original goal to enroll 40,000 acre-feet of Edwards irrigation permits into VISPO in 2014, the EAA assumed responsibility for the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) leasing program from the San Antonio River Authority. Leasing rates and terms were modified, rainfall was abundant through June, and enrollment in the program increased.
The ASR Springflow Protection Program is a water conservation program is designed to protect springflow for federally listed threatened and endangered species during times of severe, long-term droughts by financially compensating municipal, industrial, and irrigation permit holders who enroll all or part of their base irrigation or unrestricted groundwater rights for the benefit of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP).
In January, the contract between the EAA and the San Antonio Water System effectively completed the implementation of the springflow protection measure for the Regional Water Conservation Program in which 20,000 acre-feet per year of Edwards groundwater would be conserved of which 10,000 acre-feet per year would be forborne from withdrawal from 2016-2028 to remain in the Aquifer to help ensure springflows from Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs to support the endangered and threatened species at the springs consistent with the EAHCP. SAWS effectuated the conservation of Edwards groundwater through the implementation of a leak detection and repair program.
ASR leasing enrollment increases to more than 33,000 acre-feet, resulting in cumulative storage of nearly 51,000 acre-feet.
The National Academy of Sciences published its Review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan Report 2 in which it built upon the recommendations it had previously made in its 2015 report and the EAA’s responses to that report, as well as evaluated the hydrologic and ecological modeling and the Conservation Measures that were being undertaken.
The National Academy of Sciences published its Review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan Report 3 in which it evaluated the likelihood of whether the Biological Objectives set out in the EAHCP would meet the Biological Goals and whether the Conservation Measures in the EAHCP would likely meet the Biological Objectives.
2019, marked the 27th lecture in the series with guest lecturer Dr. Ronald Green, an Institute Scientist in the Earth Science Section in the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Texas wild-rice (Zizania texana) is found primary in the upper reaches of the San Marcos River in Hays County, Texas. Prior to the implementation of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP), increased recreation, river bottom dredging, plant collecting for aquarium trade business, the introduction of non-native aquatic species, and wastewater pollution posed threats to the survival of the endangered species. As permittees of the EAHCP, the City of San Marcos, in partnership with Texas State University, implemented a Texas wild-rice enhancement and restoration program that works to remove non-native aquatic vegetation and plant Texas wild-rice in its place. The program has been very successful – with the coverage of Texas wild-rice increasing 129% from the summer of 2013 (5,019 m2) to summer of 2019. This Story Map illustrates the increased expansion of Texas wild-rice in the San Marcos spring system.
Grand Opening of the EAHCP Refugia Facility at the San Marcos Aquatic Resource Center (SMARC). The new facility utilizes the USFWS’s designs to meet certain specifications for the threatened and endangered species, including tanks for housing the species, security systems, energy-saving solar panels, and a quarantine building. The EAHCP is intended to provide assurance that suitable habitat for the 8 threatened and endangered species will remain in both the two major springs that exist in Texas – the San Marcos and Comal Springs, which feed the San Marcos and Comal Rivers.
At the May 23, 2019 Joint EAHCP Stakeholder and Implementing Committee meeting, Resolution No. 05-19-001 was signed effectively validating the transition to the second phase of the EAHCP program and confirming the Conservation Measures that will be implemented through 2028. To view Resolution No. 05-19-001 visit link.
The EAHCP Implementing Committee approved the Comprehensive Phase II Work Plan. The EAHCP Implementing Committee approved the Strategic Adaptive Management resolution, which marked the transition from Phase I to Phase II of the EAHCP and provided that, with certain amendments to the VISPO program, the Conservation Measures that were in place during Phase I would be continued into Phase II.
The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) announced a partnership with ultra-accessible™ Morgan’s Wonderland Camp (MWC), a 102-acre recreational oasis on the northern outskirts of San Antonio that will year-round offer a summer camp-type experience to those with and without special needs. It has been of longstanding importance to the EAA to impart water wisdom by cultivating a curiosity for the life-sustaining groundwater system below our feet – The Edwards Aquifer.
The Edwards Aquifer Conservancy (EAC), the supporting non-profit organization for the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), was granted the deeds to 150+ acres of land known as the Cibolo Vista Tracts 1 and 2 by the San Antonio City Council at its November 14th meeting. The EAA named this site the EAA Field Research Park, which will feature sustainable land management and field research activities, to improve our understanding of the Edwards Aquifer system.
Phase I of the EAHCP was completed and Phase II began. The San Antonio Water System fully completed the implementation of the Regional Water Conservation Program through which 10,000 acre-feet per year of conserved Edwards groundwater would be forborne from withdrawals from 2016-2028 to remain in the Aquifer for the benefit of springflows from Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs to support the endangered and threatened species at these springs.
The EAA began construction of its Educational Outreach Center, in conjunction with Morgan’s Wonderland and opened its Field Research Park.
The EAA will complete the enrollment of 41,795 acre-feet of Edwards irrigation permits into the amended VISPO program for another 5 year enrollment term (January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2025). The EAA will complete the enrollment of 50,000 acre-feet of Edwards permits into the amended ASR program and the filling of the SAWS’ ASR Project in the amount of 126,000 acre-feet.