AUSTIN, Texas --Plummeting levels in the groundwater aquifer that supplies Texas' largest springs have prompted the Sierra Club to warn a state and a federal agency it will sue to protect endangered fish and other wildlife. Texas' relentless drought and punishing heat wave have limited recharge to the Edwards Aquifer, which underlies nine Central Texas counties and supplies all of San Antonio's municipal water.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, assigned to protect endangered wildlife in Comal and San Marcos Springs, has failed to put a recovery plan in place for the species, said Stuart Henry, a Sierra Club lawyer. He said the Edwards Aquifer Authority has failed to restrict well pumping to ensure adequate spring flows.
``The authority has had ample time to prevent the taking and jeopardizing of endangered species, and it has not done so,'' Henry told the Austin American-Statesman. ``I just think that's flat irresponsible.''
The environmental group sent formal notices to both agencies. Under the Endangered Species Act, 60 days' notice is required before a lawsuit can be filed in federal court.
Lawmakers and environmentalists have been trying to regulate what has been unlimited pumping from the limestone formation stretching from west of San Antonio to central Hays County. Flow at Comal Springs, the Southwest's largest spring, has repeatedly dipped during the drought below 200 cubic feet per second. That's the point at which the fish are harmed, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The spring at New Braunfels is the prime habitat for the endangered fountain darter, a 2-inch-long fish.
Legislators, farmers, and ranchers have also warned the authority in recent months that its regulatory efforts are inadequate. But the regulatory agency says it's doing everything it can. ``There's no question that spring flows dropped significantly this summer,'' said Greg Ellis, general manager of the aquifer authority. ``But when you go 90 days without rain, that's going to happen.''
He said San Antonio, the largest user of the aquifer's water, appears to have complied with a requirement to limit its use to 1.6 times the city's wintertime use in 1996. San Antonio is the largest city in the nation which relies solely on groundwater for its municipal supply.
In 1993, a Sierra Club lawsuit forced the Texas Legislature to create the authority and direct it to regulate pumping from the aquifer that's refilled by rainfall and streamflows. The club in 1997 tried to get a federal judge to take over aquifer regulation, but an appellate court ruled that the aquifer authority should be given a chance to do its job.
Comal and San Marcos Springs also harbor salamanders, rare wild rice, salamanders, and fish. The springs provide much of the flow in the Guadalupe River, which in turn supplies farmers and industrial plants.
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