Biological monitoring of river will increase due to drought

By: 

NEWS REPORTER

Kayaking environmental consultants with laptops will soon become a common sight along Comal Springs.

The biological monitoring of the waters will be increased dramatically due to the low water level of the river caused by the drought. Monitoring with laptops, nets, sediment dredges and GPS units will be conducted once every two weeks instead of the previous schedule of checking only twice a year, said Nathan Pence, Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) program director.

A company contracted by HCP will do the monitoring and collecting of samples in the river, Pence said.

Increased examination of the river is the result of the Habitat Conservation Plan that ensures habitat restoration and conservation of protected species, such as Texas wild rice and the fountain darter, as well as their habitats within the water, Pence said.

“Our goal out of the monitoring is to make sure that we aren’t causing any negative impact but rather that we are mitigating for negative impact,” Pence said. “We can’t prevent a drought, but what we can do is plan for how we will help manage the species through a drought, and that’s what we’re all about.” 

In the event the monitoring results indicate any unexpected negative impacts of low river flow on the protected species, the HCP staff and consultants will take action to correct those impacts through the adaptive management program, Pence said. 

 “As of the latest results, we have not found any negative impacts that we did not already anticipate,” Pence said. “When it comes to low flows, we know that they will have impacts on these species.”

HCP wants to make sure to examine and document the impacts so it is known how the species respond to low flows, Pence said. This will help them plan for the future.

No one will be blocked from the river or forced to get out and go around the monitoring areas when floating along the springs for recreational purposes, Pence said.

“The HCP has gone through very, very extenuating circumstances and has worked hard to make sure that we do not impact the recreational or local economies of San Marcos,” Pence said. “Our monitoring is set up to where you can just float by the protected areas.” 

Texas State University’s Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is working with the HCP to ensure the preservation of protected species in the springs.

As one of the signatories of the HCP, the university removes aggressive aquatic plants and replaces them with native vegetation, Pence said.

The university purchased Spring Lake with the commitment to be the steward of the waters that flow through the university, said Thomas Hardy, Meadows Center endowed professor for Environmental Flows.

One of the methods of biological monitoring assesses the abundance and distribution of the protected species in the river, said Kristy Kollaus, a research associate at the Meadows Center.

Concerning Texas Wild Rice, the monitors look for strands of the rice that may be exposed because of the reduction of flows. They then decide whether or not to redistribute the strands so they do not die, Kollaus said.

“My entire adult career has been about working with endangered species in rivers,” Hardy said. “To me, it’s an ethical obligation to protect our resources so that we have rivers with sustainable ecosystems that will be here for our grandchildren to enjoy.”