These Texans have successfully minimized the economic impact of complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A local stakeholder-driven solution balancing water use from the Edwards Aquifer with the needs of the people and endangered species that depend on its spring flows

The Edwards Aquifer supplies drinking water to more than 2 million people and keeps the San Marcos and Comal springs, in which eight listed species reside, flowing. These springs also provide water for the Guadalupe River and its users.

The use of the Edwards Aquifer has been the source of an acrimonious dispute for many decades. In 1991, that dispute came to a head with a lawsuit by the Sierra Club against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The Sierra Club alleged that FWS's failure to regulate pumping from the aquifer violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect the listed species that depended on them. The lawsuit was backed by the downstream communities and industry that depended on the springs to keep the river that supplies their water flowing.

The court ruled against FWS and threatened the state of Texas with federal intervention if it did not regulate the Edwards Aquifer to protect the listed species. In response, the state created the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), limited pumping from the aquifer and required the EAA to ensure continuous minimum springflows from the aquifer to protect the listed species even during a repeat of the drought of record.

When the EAA failed to ensure the continuous minimum springflows as required, the 80th Legislature in 2007 required EAA and four state agencies to resolve the species protection issue in a consensus based stakeholder process.

In 2012, on the eve of the Legislature's deadline to find a solution, a group of 39 stakeholders representing the interests of everyone from the Uvalde farmers and municipalities, to chemical companies on the coast and the environmental groups in between, arrived at a plan — the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan.

The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan protects the endangered species of the springs via a combination of water conservation, pumping cuts, payments to farmers for not irrigating during droughts, storing water in an underground reservoir during wet times for later use and improving the habitat around the springs.

The plan and the accompanying application for an incidental take permit won the approval of the FWS. There is now a reasonable expectation that the springs will continue to flow through droughts, protecting listed species while meeting the region's water needs.

While the plan is costly, it achieves an important goal by providing a stable and certain water supply without the lingering threat of intervention by the state or federal government.

Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

A plan based on voluntary actions to protect the needs of a species and industry

View the full plan (PDF)

In December 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to list the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) as endangered under the ESA. This lizard is less than three inches long and native to shinnery oak dunes in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Its Texas habitat lies in the middle of one of the nation's most productive oil and gas regions — the Permian Basin.

To minimize disturbances to the area's economy, the Texas Comptroller's office facilitated the development of the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the dunes sagebrush lizard. Stakeholders including land and royalty owners, energy and agricultural industry representatives, state universities, state and federal agencies and biologists worked together to develop the plan, which FWS approved in February 2012. The plan was a key factor in the June 2012 decision not to list the DSL (PDF) .

How it Works

Under the TCP, property owners and companies (such as oil and gas firms) with interests located in DSL habitat voluntarily enroll as participants. They agree to provide conservation measures for the species in exchange for assurances that additional measures will not be needed if the species is listed.

  • These conservation measures include the avoidance or minimization of habitat disturbances, as well as activities to mitigate the impact if a disturbance cannot be avoided. The TCP limits the total acreage of DSL habitat that can be disturbed.
  • Those instituting voluntary mitigation and recovery activities can earn credits or awards for their efforts that can be used or purchased by participants to offset habitat disturbance.
  • Annual fees paid by participants provide for administrative activities such as oversight and monitoring. They also pay Texas A&M University to conduct research on DSL behavioral, population and community ecology, especially concerning how they relate to potential habitat impacts. With better data, informed decisions can be made to better manage the species under the TCP.

The TCP is implemented on the ground by biologists and administrators based in Midland Texas who monitor and record day-to-day compliance through a variety of methods including:

  • regular communication with and education for plan participants;
  • regular reporting to Permit Holder and FWS, periodic site visits and biweekly driving tours of enrolled acreage;
  • regular review of Railroad Commission of Texas data; and
  • study of Google Earth Pro, LANDSAT 8 and RapidEye satellite imagery to detect changes and disturbances to protected land.