Wells important to endangered species to be repaired

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Oct. 17, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Updated Oct. 18, 2017 at 6:40 a.m.

Two endangered whooping cranes stand in the marshland at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Two endangered whooping cranes stand in the marshland at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.    Barclay Fernandez/bfernandez@vicad.com for The Victoria Advocate

Water wells needed during droughts by endangered whooping cranes will be repaired thanks to a $75,000 grant.

The cranes, which spend the winter on the Texas coast, are facing a different kind of disaster than they did in 2008 and 2009.

The wells were drilled on both the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and private land over the years using different sources of funding. They replenish freshwater ponds the cranes drink from. The wells were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The grant comes from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is part of a larger grant given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cover Harvey's damage to its southwest region, said Wade Harrell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' whooping crane recovery coordinator.

"We're still looking at the numbers and waiting to get quotes from contractors, but we can do as many as 10 or 12 repairs and hopefully some follow-up beyond that," Harrell said.

Some of the repairs will include replacing solar panels and control boxes on the wells.

Both Harrell and James Dodson, project manager for the San Antonio Bay Partnership, hope to have the repairs completed by the end of November.

The San Antonio Bay Partnership is one of the groups assisting with the repairs to the wells.

Harrell said they'll delay repairs if it disturbs the cranes.

"It appears the fall migration is a bit delayed, so maybe we have a bit more time," Harrell said. "I assume that's related to a milder fall. There's not enough of a strong frontal system to push them farther south."

According to the National Weather Service, the region where the wells are located received between 1 and 2 inches of rain in September.

Despite this, salinity in the freshwater ponds is still a concern.

Dodson said most of the wells are shallow and were inundated by Harvey's storm surge.

Elizabeth Smith, senior whooping crane scientist for the International Crane Foundation, said the cranes can tolerate "moderately brackish water, but when it approaches saline, they cannot drink it."

She said the International Crane Foundation will be mounting more game cameras this winter.

The cameras will be at ponds the cranes have used in the past as well as ponds they have not used.

The latter ponds are farther inland and might be less salty because they did not get the storm surge.

Smith said this is one of the ways they've monitored cranes for the past five years and is especially important now for understanding how to help the species continue to be successful.

Read the Advocate's previous coverage of the refuge recovering from Harvey here.

See a photo of what Harvey did to one of the freshwater ponds here.


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