Learn more about the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan



What is a Habitat Conservation Plan?

A habitat conservation plan (HCP) is a planning document that is recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The HCP identifies certain conservation measures developed and agreed on by stakeholders to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats.

Click here for more information on Habitat Conservations Plans.

The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) is a cooperative effort to protect the threatened and endangered species that inhabit the aquifer and the aquatic spring environments whose water largely emanates from the aquifer.

This effort began when regional stakeholders and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service or USFWS) initiated the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program (EARIP) in 2006. The Texas Legislature mandated participation in the process by the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), and Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The EARIP process led to the creation of the planning group known as the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program Habitat Conservation Plan, which has now transitioned to the implementation group known as the EAHCP. The EAHCP was completed in November 2012 and led to the approval of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) issued by the USFWS on March 2013.

What is an Incidental Take Permit (ITP)??

An Incidental Take Permit is a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), authorizing permittees the incidental “take” of a covered species during the implementation of habitat conservation activities. “Take” as defined by the ESA, means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

The ITP granted to the EAHCP authorizes covered activities to be conducted in Bexar, Medina, Atascosa, Comal, Caldwell, Hays, and Guadalupe counties, Texas.

What are Covered Species?

Species listed in an Incidental Take Permit are considered federally threatened or endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Under the HCP, minimization and mitigation measures are designed to ensure that incidental take resulting from covered activities will be moderated to the maximum extent practicable and will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the covered species.

Common Name Scientific Name Federal Status Geographic Distribution
fountain darter Eiheosioma fonticola Endangered Aquatic ecosystems of both Comal and San Marcos Springs
San Marcos gambusia Gambusia georgei Endangered Upper San Marcos River; not observed since 1983
Comal Springs dryopid beetle Stygopamus comalensis Endangered Edwards Aquifer near Comal Springs and Hueco Springs
Comal Springs riffle beetle Heterelmis comalensis Endangered Aquatic ecosystems of both Comal and San Marcos Springs
Peck’s Cave amphipod Stygobromus pecki Endangered Edwards Aquifer near Comal Springs and Hueco Springs
Texas wild-rice Zizania texana Endangered Aquatic ecosystems associated with San Marcos Springs
Texas blind salamander Eurycea rathbuni Endangered Edwards Aquifer near San Marcos Springs
San Marcos salamander Eurycea nana Threatened Aquatic ecosystems associated with San Marcos Springs
Texas cave diving beetle Haideoporus texanus Petitioned Comal Springs; artesian well near San Marcos Springs
Comal Springs salamander Eurycea sp Petitioned Comal Springs
Texas troglobitic water slater Lirceolus smithii Petitioned San Marcos Springs; artesian well on Texas State University campus

What are the covered activities under the ITP?

Covered activities are actions authorized by the Incidental Take Permit and are implemented by the Permittees in accordance to the Habitat Conservation Plan. Activities are outlined as Conservation Measures and are used to achieve Biological Goals and Objectives for the Covered Species.

The EAHCP outlines four categories of activities that have the potential to result in incidental take and are covered under the ITP: “(1) The regulation of Aquifer permitting and use of groundwater for municipal, agricultural, and industrial use; (2) recreational activities in the Comal and San Marcos springs and river ecosystems; (3) other activities in, and related to, the Comal and San Marcos springs and river ecosystems; and (4) activities involved in and related to the implementation of the minimization and mitigation measures in these ecosystems.”
(EAHCP § 2.1)

Where is the permit area?

The ITP granted to the EAHCP authorizes activity to be conducted within the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s jurisdiction. Specifically, in Bexar, Medina, Atascosa, Comal, Caldwell, Hays, and Guadalupe counties, Texas.

Who are the permittees?

a. Edwards Aquifer Authority
b. City of San Marcos
c. Texas State University
d. City of New Braunfels
e. San Antonio Water System (SAWS)

What is the Refugia Program?

Refugia is a population of Covered Species, housed in a series of facilities, for reintroduction into their native habitat. The Edwards Aquifer Authority, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has established the Refugia Program to preserve the Covered Species for subsequent re-establishment in the event of hazardous ecological conditions, such as extreme drought or chemicals spills, and cause the population of the Covered Species to decrease significantly. In addition to species husbandry, the Refugia Program also provides the opportunity to research and observe the Covered Species in a captive environment.

What is unique about the Edwards Aquifer HCP?

The Edwards Aquifer is a unique groundwater resource, extending 180 miles from Brackettville in Kinney County to Kyle in Hays County. It is the primary source of drinking water for over 2 million people in south central Texas and serves the domestic, agricultural, industrial, and recreational needs of the area. The Edwards Aquifer is the source of the only two major springs remaining in Texas – the San Marcos and the Comal. These springs feed the San Marcos and Comal Rivers which are tributaries to the Guadalupe River. Additionally, the aquifer is home to eleven threatened and endangered species, several of which are endemic to the Edwards Aquifer ecosystem.

What is an Endangered Species, who decides lists?

An endangered species is an organism that is considered to be at risk of extinction. A species can be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the NOAA Fisheries through the candidate assessment program or by a petition request for the FWS or NOAA to list a species. A species may be listed if it is threatened or endangered due to: 1) present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; 2) over-utilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; 3) disease or predation; 4) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and 5) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was established to protect those species listed as endangered or threatened and their designated critical habitat.

What is the benefit of an ITP?

An Incidental Take Permit grants landowners, developers, and municipalities authorization to proceed with an activity that would otherwise result in illegal take of a federally listed species. By utilizing a Habitat Conservation Plan, public and private agencies can facilitate development in environmentally sensitive areas and keep the health and protection of the environment a top priority.

Endangered Species Act: Plants Vs. Animals

Under the Endangered Species Act, there are no Federal prohibitions for the take of listed plant species on non-federal lands, unless taking of those plants is in violation of State law. In contrast, prohibitions on the take of listed animal species is applicable to both non-Federal and Federal lands. Prior to the issuance of an ITP, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the HCP to ensure that conservation methods do not jeopardize any threatened or endangered species, including plants.

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