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Environmental Flows Provisions Process
The environmental flows provisions in the recently passed Senate Bill 3 represent a compromise approach for addressing a contentious issue of long standing in Texas water law: how to ensure that enough water continues to flow in our rivers and streams and into our coastal bay systems to keep them healthy and productive for current and future generations of Texans.
The provisions address two key issues for protection of environmental flows. They establish a process for determining how much flow is needed and begin the process of ensuring that flow is protected.
The process to determine how much flow is needed
How will the needed flows be secured?
What you can do
The ProcessBay/basin-specific stakeholder committees will be formed with balanced representation of all relevant interests. The stakeholder committees will operate on a sequential basis, generally, with two operating at the same time. The river basin and bay system consisting of the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers and Galveston Bay and the river basin and bay system consisting of the Sabine and Neches Rivers and Sabine Lake Bay are prioritized to go through the process first. View the map to see how the state is divided and when the process will begin for each bay/basin area.
The stakeholder committees, in turn, will create bay/basin science teams made up of technical experts who know the local river and bay system. The science teams will be charged with developing recommendations for what amount of flow is needed based on the best science available. The science teams are directed to develop recommendations within one year.
The stakeholder committees will review the science team recommendations and add their view of what is possible considering competing demands for the water resources.
Both sets of recommendations will then be forwarded to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Through a public rulemaking process, the TCEQ will adopt environmental flow standards. These standards will be the goals for the flows in the river and for the inflows to the associated bay system, if there is one.
The flow standards likely will use some form of building block approach, which includes a minimum level of flows sufficient to keep organisms alive and water quality minimally acceptable (to be used during droughts) and additional amounts needed at other times in order for organisms to thrive (to be used during wetter periods to ensure healthy populations).
Securing the needed flowsThe first step will be to set-aside reasonable amounts of unappropriated flow (water that is not spoken for by existing permits) where it is available. When the TCEQ adopts the environmental flow standards, it will also adopt a "set-aside" based on consideration of the recommendations from the stakeholder and science groups. These set-asides can be made available on a temporary basis for meeting other essential human needs in emergency situations.
In some streams and rivers, there may be insufficient or no unappropriated flow available to meet the environmental flow standards. In these cases, the set-aside won't get us all the way to meeting the standards and it will be just one component of the overall solution.
The environmental flows provisions also require that permit conditions on any new permits issued after this September but before the adoption of the set-aside may be adjusted within certain limits to help meet environmental flow needs.
For any additional unmet flow needs beyond the set-asides and adjustments in conditions in new permits, the stakeholder groups will be charged with making recommendations on how we might make up the difference, considering the specific situation in their area. Basically, we will have to rely on some combination of voluntary transactions, such as donations or purchases of existing rights and dedications of return flows.
What you can doMembers will be appointed to the first set of Bay/Basin stakeholder committees by November 1, 2007. If you live within these areas and would like to learn more about getting involved, email or call us toll-free at 1-800-919-9151.