Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program Receives 2013 Partners in Conservation Award

Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program Receives 2013 Partners in Conservation Award

The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) is a regional success story. The EAHCP protects the federally listed species in the Comal and San Marcos springs of Central Texas while simultaneously providing certainty and sustainability to a sensitive groundwater resource for which over 2 million people depend. The EAHCP was developed through a diverse body of stakeholders. Due to the level of public/private cooperation, the process received the 2013 Department of Interior’s Partners in Conservation award in Washington, D.C (Figure 1). The program has experienced many successes in implementation of the EAHCP. This is seen specifically by the positive impact the habitat restoration and springflow protection programs have had.

Figure 2. Planting Texas wild-rice

Habitat restoration measures are intended to improve the habitat for the covered species and minimize the effects of groundwater pumping, development, and recreation near the ecosystems. In the San Marcos springs, water clarity and year-around water temperatures provide suitable conditions for an endangered plant species, Texas wild-rice. As a part of habitat restoration activities, Texas wild-rice enhancement requires biologist to plant rice stands throughout the upper parts of the San Marcos river and remove non-native plants to allow continued growth (Figure 2). In five years of work, this effort has expanded this endemic species’ coverage from approximately 2,500 m2 in 2012 to 8,000 m2 in 2017.

Additionally, heavy public use has been curtailed by an extensive recreational mitigation effort. Restoration is achieved, in part, by the establishment of an extensive riparian restoration area. This effort reestablishes native plants along the banks of the river and provides habitat protection by concentrating access to stabilized entrance points, providing erosion control during heavy rain events, and limiting habitat disturbance during the summer months.

In addition to habitat restoration, springflow protection is what will determine the longevity of the species’ survival, by providing continuous minimum springflows. There are four separate measures that help reduce overall pumping from the Edwards Aquifer throughout the region to ensure adequate flows in both springs. The Edwards Aquifer Authority has initiated these programs to incentivize limited use of groundwater supplies by acquiring, through leases or other agreements, almost 20 percent of the overall allocated water rights from the aquifer. The Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Program Option is a program open to irrigators with groundwater withdrawal rights from the Edwards Aquifer. It encourages farmers to use less water in times of severe regional drought by financially compensating them when they suspend their groundwater pumping. This conservation program helps protect springflows by keeping much needed water in the aquifer. Additionally, in collaboration with the San Antonio Water System’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery facilities, the EAA obtains leases to be used in times of severe drought. The VISPO and ASR programs are only two parts of a comprehensive groundwater management strategy to protect the Edwards Aquifer.

Figure 3. Incidental Take for fountain darters in the Comal River

With the extreme rainfall variability the region experiences, the incidental take numbers are a critical metric to determine how well the EAHCP programs are doing in mitigating the impacts of the partners activities. By using the take numbers recorded over the past four years, and extrapolating out till the end of the first Incidental Take Permit (2027), our program is on track to impact less than one-third of the allowable take provided by USFWS. Figure 3 shows the incidental take numbers calculated from 2013 to 2017. The total allotted take for fountain darters from the Comal system is approximately 800,000.

Since March 2013, when implementation of the EAHCP began, the habitat in the Comal and San Marcos springs systems have received many benefits. This, despite the drought conditions both systems have experienced, has been the example to the program’s success. In the first two years of implementation, our region received extremely low rainfall which negatively affected the springs. In the Comal Springs system, the largest spring system in Texas, springflow variability is of major concern. In 2014 major spring orifices stopped providing surface flow for several months. Despite these pressures, the implementation of the EAHCP continued to protect the habitat of the threatened and endangered species covered in the EAHCP. These protections were implemented while simultaneously maintaining low incidental take numbers, which are calculated to provide our partners with the ability to continue all covered activities like: aquifer withdrawals for agriculture, municipal use, industrial use, and recreational activities in the springs ecosystems. The utility of the Edwards Aquifer as a regional groundwater resource is only possible through the successes seen in the implementation of the EAHCP.


Scott Storment,
Edwards Aquifer Authority,

Edwards Aquifer HCP Web site