Naked City

Fishing for an Angle

Fish aren't the only ones feeling the heat due to this year's drought conditions in the Texas Hill Country.

In the ongoing fight between the Guadalupe River chapter of Trout Unlimited (GRTU) and the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) over the water flowing downstream from Canyon Reservoir, both sides are just trying to keep their cool. In requesting an increase in the amount of water it can take from the impounded lake, the GBRA has claimed that the prized trout fishery on the Guadalupe won't be harmed in the long run, but that promise hasn't satisfied the trout fishermen. The anglers' group would like a written guarantee that, when possible, the river authority will continue to allow enough water flow to keep the trout alive in Central Texas' prized waterway.

This week, GBRA general manager Bill West told the Chronicle he has high hopes that a meeting scheduled for later this month will clear up differences of opinion. "I remain optimistic that we can come to a resolution on these issues," West says. "Our objective is to come to an agreement on this."

GBRA's decision to come to the table marks a significant change from the utility's earlier posture. Just two weeks ago, citing the lack of rainfall, GBRA pressed the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to speed its approval of a permit that would allow nearly twice as much water to be diverted from Canyon Reservoir as what is currently allowed to supply municipal projects in the Guadalupe Basin -- from 50,000 to 90,000 cubic feet.

Pat Shaughnessy, a TNRCC spokesman, says his agency is still in the middle of a technical review of the application, but that it's not about to be fast-tracked. "Once you have a hearing request," he says, "there's little chance for an accelerated review. At this point, I can simply tell you the permit is still pending."

West says he believes the TNRCC will prioritize the issue nonetheless. As for his apparent change of heart with regard to GRTU's desire to be heard as a stakeholder, West says simply: "I always felt there was room for reason."

The 3,000-member GRTU and the group's attorneys hope that meetings with GBRA later this month will allow them to find some common ground. "The main sticking point is the permanence of this thing," says David Schroeder, chair of the GRTU's Flow Committee, concerning long-range projections for how much water will be allowed to flow below the dam. "We realize that in years of drought, there may not be enough water. But we think [GBRA has] a responsibility to mitigate some of the environmental impacts of the dam. We'd still like to see a sustainable trout fishery."

Mark Stacell, a Houston-based lawyer for the anglers, adds that the TNRCC must hold an applicant responsible for assessing potential impacts to the public good -- including issues such as the tourist economy and quality of life -- before allowing GBRA to go ahead with its plan. "Everybody knows that the Texas population is eventually going to double. But GRTU believes it would be a real shame to sacrifice this fishery. After all, if we're going to have more people, we're going to need more recreational resources as well."

Schroeder regards the upcoming negotiations with cautious optimism. Keenly aware that GRTU is fighting a losing battle on the political front -- official supporters of GBRA's proposal include the cities of Boerne, Fair Oaks Ranch, Kyle, San Marcos, Seguin, and New Braunfels -- Schroeder says his group hopes to realize an amicable solution. "We've got a choice between a non-native fishery and no fishery at all," he says. "And I'd say to GBRA, 'Doesn't that count for something?'"

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