If the state of Texas wants to continue to use surface water for economic development purposes, it must also protect the environment, river expert Andrew Sansom told State Impact last week.
His comments came on the heels of a federal court's finding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -- an agency charged with safeguarding the state's natural resources --was responsible for the deaths of 23 rare whooping cranes.
The federal judge said the TCEQ's management of water flows into the Guadalupe River caused salinity levels to rise by not allowing enough freshwater into the river.
Whooping cranes are a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Late Friday afternoon State Attorney General Abbot’s request to stay the ruling on TCEQ water management was denied, according to The Aransas Project, the plaintiffs in the case.
Jim Blackburn, author of The Book of Texas Bays, represented the Aransas Project in the case.
Sansom, head of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, presented expert testimony for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against TCEQ. He is also editor of two Texas A&M University Press book series focusing on Texas rivers and conservation leadership.
He told State Impact he hoped the decision would put a spotlight on the issue of environmental flows as lawmakers debate funding for the state water plan.
“I think that what we’ve seen in this ruling is a warning that if we don’t get serious about protecting the environmental flows in our rivers and streams, than we invite the federal government to become involved in the management of surface water in every basin where endangered species are present,” Sansom said.
TCEQ officials have said they are considering an appeal. In a statement, the agency called the case "an unconstitutional attempt to use the Endangered Species Act as cover for rewriting the Texas Water Code."
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For more on whooping cranes --including a tableau of rare images taken by National Geographic photographer Klaus Nigge -- check out Whooping Crane: Images from the Wild.