The Edwards Aquifer in south-central Texas is the primary source of water for one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, San Antonio, and it also supplies irrigation water to thousands of farmers and livestock operators. It is also is the source water for several springs and rivers, including the two largest freshwater springs in Texas that form the San Marcos and Comal Rivers. The unique habitat afforded by these spring-fed rivers has led to the development of species that are found in no other locations on Earth. Due to the potential for variations in spring flow caused by both human and natural causes, these species are continuously at risk and have been recognized as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In an effort to manage the river systems and the aquifer that controls them, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and stakeholders have developed a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP seeks to effectively manage the river-aquifer system to ensure the viability of the ESA-listed species in the face of drought, population growth, and other threats to the aquifer. The National Research Council was asked to assist in this process by reviewing the activities around implementing the HCP. Review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan: Report 1 is the first stage of a three-stage study. This report reviews the scientific efforts that are being conducted to help build a better understanding of the river-aquifer system and its relationship to the ESA-listed species. These efforts, which include monitoring and modeling as well as research on key uncertainties in the system, are designed to build a better understanding of how best to manage and protect the system and the endangered species. Thus, the current report is focused specifically on a review of the hydrologic modeling, the ecological modeling, the water quality and biological monitoring, and the Applied Research Program. The fundamental question that Review of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan: Report 1 addresses is whether the scientific initiatives appropriately address uncertainties and fill knowledge gaps in the river-aquifer system and the species of concern. It is hoped that the successful completion of these scientific initiatives will ultimately lead the Edwards Aquifer Authority to an improved understanding of how to manage the system and protect these species.
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