This blog was written by Joanna Wolaver, a media consultant with National Wildlife Federation in Austin, TX
Chances are you saw the national headlines. Texas’s extreme drought has reduced the flow of freshwater from rivers into Galveston Bay, causing hyper-saline, inhospitable waters for wildlife and significant harm to the bay’s oyster industry. However, this is only part of the story.
These extremely salty conditions could become the norm rather than the exception due to rules recently adopted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioners. Under these rules, upstream water users will be allowed to pump significant amounts of water from the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers. As a result, summer freshwater inflows from these rivers into Galveston Bay will be reduced levels low or even lower than the bay is experiencing now more than half the time.
These rules are the result of a three-year long process that was intended to ensure sufficient water for fish and wildlife – and related industries – during times of drought while also meeting human water supply needs. (The adopted rules only impact new water rights, not existing water rights.) However, instead of putting adequate protections in place for the bay, the process resulted in protections lower than those already in place.
So, what can we do now to ensure a healthy future for the bay?
First, TCEQ must revisit the rules for the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers and Galveston Bay and make them stronger. Water rights holders should also be encouraged to participate in voluntary efforts such as donation or sale of existing water rights to environmental purposes and dedication of wastewater return flows. The City of Houston’s recent dedication of approximately half of its wastewater return flows to this purpose as a critical first step in this effort.
In addition, the Commissioners are currently considering regulations to protect fish and wildlife in Central Texas rivers and Matagorda, Lavaca, Mission, Copano, Aransas and San Antonio bays. Please join the Texas Living Waters Project partners – National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter and the Galveston Bay Foundation – in urging them not to make the same poor decision they did for the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers and Galveston Bay by enacting insufficient flow rules in other Texas river and bay systems.
This is not the future we want for our beloved and economically important coastal areas. Please contact the TCEQ Commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-239.5500 and ask them to fix the Trinity and San Jacinto and Galveston Bay rules to protect bay health.