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There is more than one voice on the river

By BY WALTER CRAIN WOMACK
May 12, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.

Walter Crain Womack

Mr. W.E. "Bill" West is mistaken. Mr. West, general manager of Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, contributed a guest column to the Advocate on May 3. He stated that almost all of the members of a stakeholder advisory group "have no accountability to the residents of the Guadalupe Basin," implying that the group, which was selected from nominees by the Science Advisory Committee for the Texas Legislature, has no standing. Some pretty smart folks took a long time putting together that group from all walks of life: electric generation, municipalities, environmental groups, feedlot operators, cattlemen, recreational and commercial fishermen, chemical plants, scientists, educators and others. Mr. West didn't like what 19 of those 22 stakeholders determined and recommended - after two years of study, discussion and compromise. OK, that's his opinion. He should not, however, impugn the legitimate participation of nearly 90 percent of the stakeholder group or their mandate from the state.

I am a member of that stakeholder group. I own land and live along the San Antonio River. I have friends and family who have property and live up and down both rivers. No one has to tell those folks that the Guadalupe River directly affects them. I am accountable to all those friends, family and neighbors for the work I do on the committee. Indeed, like every member of the committee, I take my appointment very seriously and hold myself accountable to the process, the rivers, the bays, the basins and everything thereabouts, rooted or otherwise.

The water flowing in our river serves us in many ways. Balancing those ways was and is the stakeholders' charge. We invested a couple of years toward that end and we answer to many, not the least of which is the state legislature. I take exception to Mr. West's implication that his is the only legitimate voice on the river. However, it is appropriate for Mr. West, like every interested party, to render input to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) before the final rules are established.

The process for establishing the rules by which TCEQ will determine water rights permitting in the Guadalupe, San Antonio Mission and Aransas Rivers has entered the stage where TCEQ has asked for public comment on its preliminary rule outline. TCEQ is genuine in its request for continued input. And members of that stakeholders group have demonstrated their commitment many times over - throughout literally thousands of hours over the past two years, including this comment phase.

Toward that end, I will be writing TCEQ myself before the deadline on May 14, with my concerns about the fresh water flows into the bays, knowledge gaps in certain river stretches and instream considerations. I will be asking for rules more in line with the stakeholder recommendations.

The recommendations submitted by the stakeholder committee very effectively balance the needs to keep sufficient fresh water available for the bays and estuaries with opportunities to extract water by way of new permits. They do the same for the instream flows up and down the rivers. I believe TCEQ should incorporate rules that more closely resemble those types of balanced considerations.

One of the overpowering facts of this process is that, once granted, water permits cannot be taken back.

Few, if any, will dispute that most of the water has already been permitted. Almost all existing permits were granted before any consideration of the bays or instream habitats were recognized factors. Surely, whatever remaining permits to be granted should be very carefully allocated. That is why it is so important for people to take advantage of these few remaining days for public comment and let their opinions be known. That is why there were calls for public input from the folks that Mr. West wrote to disparage. But take it from me. TCEQ wants to hear from you. And your grandchildren will sing your praises.

Walter Crain Womack is a landowner and pasture dweller in McFaddin.

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