PRO: State should be required to allocate water for whoopers

By Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Dec. 23, 2012 at 6:23 a.m.
Updated Dec. 24, 2012 at 6:24 a.m.

A whooping crane taking flight was seen from aboard The Skimmer out of Fulton Harbor in Rockport. Birders from all over  flock to the area to see the endangered bird that winters on the Texas Coast.

A whooping crane taking flight was seen from aboard The Skimmer out of Fulton Harbor in Rockport. Birders from all over flock to the area to see the endangered bird that winters on the Texas Coast.

The state should be required to put a water plan in place to protect whooping cranes.

Jim Blackburn, a Houston-based environmental lawyer representing the Aransas Project, said he believes it is essential that the water supply be changed.

While the whooping cranes are the focus of this movement, they are also just a part of what a state water plan will mean to the bays and estuaries that depend on the Guadalupe River freshwater flow to keep the ecosystems healthy.

"Apart from whether you care about the whooping cranes or not, the whooping crane is a sort of canary in the coal mine for the health of the bays and the health of the coastal economy depends on healthy bays," Blackburn said.

If the birds are thriving, that means there is enough freshwater coming down the Guadalupe to provide for good shrimping, fishing and oystering in the bays, a part of the coastal economy. The birds have also become a tourist attraction.

In the 1940s, the last known naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes was discovered at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, their numbers declined to just 15 birds. The flock has swelled to almost 300 birds in recent years, creating a tourist attraction that brings people from all over the world looking for the birds, Blackburn said.

"It stands for the idea that other living things both exist and can come back from the brink if we give them a chance," Blackburn said. "If we don't maintain freshwater inflows, we could lose them and the long-term health of the bays is at stake as well as the whoopers, themselves."

Bill West, general manager of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, says his organization has worked harder than almost any other to protect the birds and ensure their survival. Blackburn disagrees, contending that the state has failed in its job to protect the birds.

"We have it in our hands - as Texans - the fate of these birds, and frankly we haven't been particularly good stewards," he said.

West has expressed concern that a ruling in favor of the Aransas Project will put state water rights in federal hands, but Blackburn says such a move would force the state to consider the needs of the whooping cranes.

"I think the state and the river authorities have abdicated their responsibilities. They have not exercised good stewardship or good management, and that's something all of us should recognize as important," he said. "That's where we're focused, trying to put balance back into the state policy."

Blackburn noted that the whooping cranes represent an environmental success story, and that it is essential to protect the flock.

Paul Meredith, a naturalist of Victoria, agrees with Blackburn.

The law says that the government has an obligation to protect endangered species like whooping cranes, and if it is found they are not being protected, then it is the responsibility of the government to fix the situation so that the animals can thrive, Meredith said.

As things stand now, water rights are not given to animals. So if another drought occurs, there isn't a plan in place to provide enough water to keep the bays healthy and to keep the whoopers' food supply plentiful, he said.

"While the GBRA has been concerned about the whooping cranes, the whooping cranes don't have water rights," Meredith said. "The Aransas Project is just trying to get attention to that and to get a coherent plan. The bays will recover, but if the whooping cranes decline, they may not come back."

Related stories:

CON: State already is doing enough to protect whoopers, click HERE



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia