Hanging Hunters and Anglers Out to Dry: The Future of Texas Waters

Next two years will be critical for wildlife resources and for hunters and anglers in Texas

11-01-2003 // Lacey McCormick

The future of hunting, angling and nature tourism in Texas are just a few of the things at risk as policy-makers decide the future of the state's water resources.

Coastal fishing and nature tourism are multibillion-dollar industries in Texas. The state's bays and estuaries provide homes and sustenance to species such as redfish, black drum, seatrout, sheepshead and Atlantic croaker. The people of Texas, and especially coastal anglers, depend on these bodies of water, which in turn depend on inflows from the state's freshwater rivers.

The areas where the freshwater of the river meets the saltwater of the bay is where many fish species develop and thrive. Game animals such as wild turkey, deer and waterfowl also depend on habitat along our rivers.

Yet the state has done little to guarantee that these important freshwater resources will be around for future use by all Texans. For over a century, the state has issued water-rights permits to users for various purposes-be it cities, farmers or private businesses. These permits, which are now issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), never expire, cost no more than a small application fee and can be freely sold for sizeable profits.

"Permits for most of the state's surface water were issued long before there was widespread recognition of the importance of freshwater inflows. As a result, unless we do something and do it soon, we are in real danger of cutting off the freshwater flow that is the lifeblood of our bays and estuaries," notes Myron Hess, legal counsel and director of Texas water programs for the National Wildlife Federation's Gulf States Natural Resource Center in Austin.

Over the last couple of years, a number of nonprofit organizations applied for water-rights permits for the precise purpose of maintaining river flows to protect water quality and help ensure the well-being of the fish and wildlife that make Texas rivers and bays such outdoor treasures. Last March, acting in response to input from at least one key state leader and vehement opposition from the folks who normally get permits to take water out of our rivers, TCEQ dismissed the first of those applications.

Bring in the state legislature, which recently prohibited the issuance of new permits for river protection during the next two years. Instead, a study group (the Study Commission on Water for Environmental Flows) is being created to decide how best to protect river flows and freshwater inflows into the bays. In the meantime, it will be business as usual in issuing permits to take water out of the rivers.

The study group itself, which is still being formed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House Speaker Tom Craddick, could prove to be an important asset to the future of fish and wildlife resources in Texas. However, if it fails to produce meaningful recommendations, it will mean we're just that much closer to ruin for coastal fishing and tourism.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, November 19, the TCEQ Commissioners will decide whether to keep the remaining river protection permit applications pending while the study group makes its decisions, or throw them out altogether.

These next two years will be critical for wildlife resources and for hunters and anglers in Texas. It is important that they make their voices heard. Water in our rivers belongs to all Texans, it's high time to make sure all interests are protected.

Made up of hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) can offer policy, scientific and legal experts to help you bring your readers the latest news on Texas waters and changes affecting hunters and anglers.

Contact: Lacey McCormick, 512-610-7765

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