For Immediate Release (Wednesday, April 20, 2011):
Contact: Ken Kramer, 512-476-6962 (office), 512-626-4204 (cell)
Statement of Ken Kramer, Director, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, on the TCEQ Adoption of
Weak Environmental Flow Standards for Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake and Associated River Basins
“The weak environmental flow standards adopted today by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on a 2-1 vote represent a lost opportunity to set a precedent for strong protection of our state’s coastal bays and estuaries and the rivers that flow into them. The decision by TCEQ potentially sacrifices Galveston Bay for the benefit of upstream water interests in the Trinity and San Jacinto River Basins. Moreover, TCEQ failed to set any standards for freshwater inflows into Sabine Lake and weakened instream flow standards in the Sabine and Neches Rivers from what the TCEQ staff originally proposed.
“There was a lot of hand-wringing by the TCEQ Commissioners about the restrictions on their ability to provide more water for the environment, due to already issued water rights permits and limited water availability at all times, and there was a lot of sentiment expressed by the Commissioners about wanting to protect rivers and estuaries. In the end, however, all they could muster to improve the proposed standards was a very minimal 10% increase in base river flows in the Sabine, Neches, and San Jacinto Rivers (and no increase in the Trinity River). Only Commissioner Buddy Garcia, who hails from the Texas Gulf Coast, voted against the weak environmental flow standards. We appreciate his vote.
“At today’s Commission meeting the public comments were strongly in favor of stronger standards, and those comments came from a diversity of folks – oystermen, seafood restaurant owners, seafood wholesalers, the Galveston Bay Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas (recreational anglers), National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club. A few comments were made in favor of weak standards by representatives of water supply interests, who thus far have sought to stonewall or control the process for development of standards so as to avoid any meaningful environmental protections. It’s shameful how organizations like the Trinity River Authority and Sabine River Authority – which should be concerned about the ecological health of their river systems and the estuaries dependent on those rivers – have pursued such an obstructionist approach to the environmental flows process.
“The emphasis now is going to have to be on voluntary approaches to try to achieve environmental flow protections since we can’t depend upon TCEQ. Unfortunately TCEQ has now set the bar so low that the motivation to bring people to the table to hash out creative approaches to maintaining river flows is likely to be lacking. The precedent set today potentially puts the whole Texas Gulf Coast in jeopardy in the coming years.”