THE EDWARDS AQUIFER HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN
Resolution to over 50 years of water dispute
by Todd H. Votteler, PH.D. and Robert L. Gulley, PH.D.
Water Dispute Resolution, LLC
The use of the Edwards Aquifer had inspired regional antagonism and open conflict in courts and the state legislature. It was a seemingly intractable dispute concerning whether pumping from the Aquifer should be regulated. The dispute included municipalities, industrial and agricultural users, environmental interests, as well as downstream water right holders with rights to surface water fed by Edwards Aquifer springs. Today, we can report that the framework for managing and potentially resolving this dispute, i.e., the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan, is in place and functioning (see here)— even in the face of a drought of similar to the one it was originally created to handle. It should be noted, however, that there has not yet been time to fully implement all of the components of the plan and that significant challenges remain.
In the early 1990s, obligations under the federal Endangered Species Act brought about state regulation which ended unrestricted water withdrawals from the Edwards Aquifer. In 2006-2007, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Texas Legislature brought together stakeholders from throughout the region to participate in a unique collaborative process to develop a plan to contribute to the recovery of federally-listed species dependent on the Edwards Aquifer. This process was referred to as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program. A key result was work on a habitat conservation plan for the region. This became the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan .
The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan demonstrates what can be achieved by stakeholders who are committed to working through a process to obtain a compromise that they can all accept. There are many other intractable water disputes, some focused on endangered species and some not, that could benefit from a process similar to the one that resulted in an historic agreement for the Edwards Aquifer. The approach to decision-making should be an asset to those who are prepared to try and resolve their disputes — instead of being satisfied with either temporary victories in courts and administrative agencies in ongoing battles, or perpetual stalemates.
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