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credit: LaVonda Walton -USFWS

Partners in Conservation of the Edwards Aquifer

Earlier this year, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell presented the Department’s 2013 Partners in Conservation Awards to 20 partnership projects that demonstrate “exemplary natural resource conservation efforts through public-private cooperation”.  Among the recipients of this year’s award was the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) participants, including us, the Texas Living Waters Project.

Much has already been written about the success of the EARIP, which began in 2006, in bringing together stakeholders from all sides of the table to resolve the long-standing conflict between pumping from the southern segment of the Edwards Aquifer and protecting endangered species that depend on spring flow from the Aquifer.  What has not been touted nearly as much is why the program worked.

Right Time, Right Place

As the representative of the Sierra Club in the process, I realized that it was important for our organization to step up as a willing contributor to finding a solution to the conflict. After all, we, along with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, were the ones who initiated the Federal lawsuit in 1991 to protect the species at the springs. I think that the various other participants had also reached a point of recognizing that it was time to make real progress and not have yet another failed attempt to resolve these contentious issues.

Secondly, when you work with the same folks for five years, you develop a rapport and a level of trust. One of the challenges of the EARIP process was that it was consensus based, which is hard, but you work through the disagreements, and over time, understand where other stakeholders are coming from, and learn how to work through those issues together. There were times when the wheels nearly came off the process, but all of us involved realized we had to come up with some way to resolve the immediate conflict, or go back to square one. During a particularly contentious time of the process, Myron Hess, the Texas Living Waters representative to the EARIP, implored us all with the admonition that, “we have come too far to fail.”

“Partners in Conservation” is a good title for the award presented to those of us who worked on the EARIP.  Through hard work, trust, and commitment to reaching a solution everyone could live with, we found a way, we hope, to finally resolve a long-standing resource issue.

Partners for the Future?

There are other resource conflicts in Texas where a process like the EARIP would likely find success, most notably the issue of the whooping crane and freshwater inflows. Last year, a federal judge ruled that, because San Antonio bay was not receiving adequate inflows, a plan (similar to the type developed by the EARIP) was needed to minimize and mitigate risks to the cranes while balancing the interests of other river users and water rights holders. Many of the same stakeholders with the benefit of the rapport and experience from the EARIP process would have been involved in the development of this new plan.

Sadly, these Partners in Conservation may not get the chance because the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, rather than pursuing such an agreed resolution, chose to appeal the decision. That could leave the issue pending in the court system and unresolved for many years to come. Then again, the Appeals Court or the appellants might surprise us

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