The City of San Marcos held a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the implementation of a plan aiming to protect federally listed species in the Comal and San Marcos rivers.
The Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan covers the entire Edward’s Aquifer Watershed. The plan was prepared during a four and a half year period by a diverse body of approximately 40 stakeholder groups including municipalities, agriculture users and river authorities. According to the plan, habitat restoration and flow protection are the two focuses of the initiative.
The habitat restoration will protect endangered plant and animal species and control or remove non-native species in the Comal and San Marcos Springs. Underwater litter removal and stabilization of the banks of the San Marcos River to prevent erosion are parts of the restoration.
Reducing agricultural and municipal water usage will help to protect the rivers’ flow level.
Regulating water levels in certain areas is another objective, according to the plan.
Director Nathan Pence said the plan intends to solve the conflict between the federal mandate to protect endangered species and the region’s dependence on the same aquifer as a water source.
Pence said the plan received the incidental take permit, which allows for implementation to begin, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week.
“The primary mission is to protect the in-river habitat for endangered species,” said Melanie Howard, project manager. “The, the San Marcos salamander and the fountain darter (are what we are protecting) primarily.”
Howard said the project aims to recover the native species rather than negatively affecting them. Wild rice will be planted along the banks of the rivers, and invasive plants and animals will be removed to protect the native species.
Howard said the removal process will begin in two weeks when plants along the river are taken out and replaced with Texas wild rice.
Heritage Tree Care, the contractor for the plan, has already begun the process of removing invasive trees and shrubs along the river. Taking out invasive fish from within the ecosystem has already begun, Howard said.
“For the past two months, we have been nursing the saplings of native tree species we will be planting,” said Derrick Lee, employee at Heritage Tree Care. “We have been storing them at our houses in indoor growing systems, getting them ready to plant on the banks of the river.”
Sediment will be removed in two weeks to prevent erosion and stabilize the banks, according to the plan. Scuba divers will be using vacuums to pump sediment from the river into a tank where water and silt will then be separated. The silt will be sold to a woman who is buying it for compost, said intern Nick Lawrie.
“With everything that’s going on in the city, we’ve seen an accumulation of tons and tons of sediment in the last 10 years or so,” Lawrie said. “It has completely made the river an unnatural place from what it used to be.”
Litter is being removed from the river bottom starting at Spring Lake and ending at Interstate 35, as well as along the tributaries, Lawrie said.
Litter will be picked up from the riverbed weekly and boats will be available during the recreational season to reduce the trash on the bottom of the water source.
San Marcos officials are working with San Antonio Water System, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the City of New Braunfels and the university to complete the plan’s initiatives.