U.S. Water News Online
SAN ANTONIO -- The agency which helps manage use of the
groundwater aquifer relied upon by many Central Texans has been
considering whether it will regulate development within the
groundwater recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the
state's largest springs.
The Edwards Aquifer Authority's board has voted to direct staffers
to begin drafting recharge zone protection rules, including limits on
how much of the land a developer could cover with rooftops and
Developing and paving surface land over the aquifer, which covers
an 11-county area and supports unique aquatic species, limits the
amount of water that replenishes the system. Lowered water levels in
the aquifer have in the past threatened supplies for San Antonio
residents and threatened an endangered species at Comal and San
Marcos Springs, which rely on the Edwards.
Board Chairman Michael Beldon proposed naming a committee to
recommend how far the board should go in making rules.
"I think we've waited too long already," said board member George
Rice, an environmentalist and self-employed hydrogeologist. "These
rules are long overdue.
"They do not want us to have any effective authority over
impervious cover on the recharge zone," said Rice, adding that he was
referring to state Sen. Ken Armbrister and owners and developers of
recharge zone acreage. "I think most board members would agree with
me that it is the developers that have gotten Armbrister to do this
Armbrister, D-Victoria, and others tried during the legislative
session this year to strip the agency of any ability to regulate
water quality, giving that power instead to the Texas Commission on
Environmental Quality. Local representatives blocked most of the
The agency's strategic plan, adopted by the board in April 2002,
calls for it to launch a recharge zone protection program this year
and to begin requiring permits for development by April. In Austin,
regulations already limit development in aquifer recharge areas.
Rice, who was elected to the board of the 7-year-old agency last
year, has proposed that the aquifer authority begin drafting
"In order to protect the aquifer, we have to effectively control
impervious cover on the recharge zone," Rice said. "If we can't do
that, then our ability to protect the aquifer is severely crippled."
After narrowly avoiding losing all of its power to protect water
quality, the authority should be judicious in assessing how it should
jump into regulation, Beldon said.
"It's pretty crystal clear that our enabling legislation gives us
wide-ranging powers, but those powers were substantially reduced in
the last legislative session," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating
thousands of acres around San Antonio as critical habitat for what
scientists called "indicator species" for the aquifer's health.
Armbrister, who co-authored legislation to create the authority in
1993, insisted this year that he never intended to give the authority
the power to regulate water quality. But others say transcripts of
committee and Senate floor debate in 1993 and when the bill was
amended in 1995 indicate he thought otherwise at the time.
"I think of Armbrister as a bully," said Rice. "If you give in to
a bully, does that mean he'll stop? I don't see how we could take
steps to really protect the aquifer and not anger him."
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