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biz. ,I’Voy/i?’` ,;, GBRA General Manager Bill West Guadalupe, continued from page 17 Wassenich. “If they could be straightforward with the Legislature without fear their funding would be cut, they would probably be saying what we are.” The GBRA’s Bill West also doubts the TNRCC will act without first receiving some kind of signal from the Legislature. Although the Lege is out of session, an interim committee of the House Natural Resources Committee has been meeting and will likely make reference to SMRF’s permit bid in their final report. It is entirely possible that during the session, legislators will find a way to make a SMRF-like application illegal. “I would suspect that TNRCC would watch and see what happens in terms of the interim study report and then any resultant legislation before they take that permit application up,” says West. “It would be political suicide for [TNRCC] to go one way or another.” Wassenich welcomes the opportunity to debate the issue of instream flows that most of the public knows little about. “We want to educate legislators,” she says. “I think Texans have a strong feeling for their natural heritage, but when they lose it, it happens out of sight, one drop at a time.” The rush for each side to advance their position has already begun. The GBRA contracted a scientific expert at Texas A&M. to do a study on the whooping crane and freshwater inflows. It will likely counter the 1998 Texas Parks and Wildlife study that identified 1.15 million acre feet as the amount the estuaries need. Cindy Loeffler, director of water resources at Parks and Wildlife, says her agency will stand behind their report. Although they know that because of variations in rainfall and the demands of more senior water rights, the bay rarely gets 1.15 million acre feet, it’s still the optimum amount. “We don’t want to see the frequency of how often the bay receives that amount of water decrease,” she says. Both sides are busily meeting with editorial boards and cranking out brochures of facts and positions that boil down to separate philosophies: big engineering versus conservation. The GBRA’s West insists that a planning process at the legislature and among government agencies already exists to work out these issues: .Environmentalists con tend that the planning has -been skewed against them. SMRF recently issued a pamphlet pressing its case. It reads in part: “SMRF is respectfully taking its place in line behind all currently held water rights, which could be used much more efficiently. Many current water rights holders use inefficient irrigation methods and pump potable water through leaky pipes. Education is essential to teach industries to reuse wastewater and employ a -myriad of other water strategies. These methods are much cheaper than the river authority’s plan to pipe Guadalupe River water uphill for hundreds of miles, from the coast back . to Central Texas.” Wassenich emphasizes that her group is following the rules and the TNRCC will be hard pressed to dismiss them. “We are not filing a lawsuit,” she says. “We are not fighting anybody. We aretrying to work within the system, exactly as they set it up.We have to figure out how much is left and what can be saved.” But if the TNRCC does decide it cannot legally grant the permit, SMRF’s .remedy is . to head to district court, which they are ready to do. “An environmental water right on the Guadalupe is completely viable, not only because the law allows it, but because there’s still water available in the river,” says Ilan Levin, one of SMRF’s attorneys. “The TNRCC knows it.The Texas Legislature knows it. If state lawmakers want to set a bold policy on how were going to keep the rest of Texas’ rivers flowing, they should be commended and encouraged. But, if some legislators want to avoid the real policy issues and instead attempt simply to make the SMRF application go away, they would be crossing the line. There’s no way they can do that without getting into serious constitutional problems.” The threat of a court battle clearly frustrates Bill West, but the GBRA’s rhetoric is far from conciliatory. An entire system is at stake. “There is no question it is a precedent,” he says. “You can discuss it from the standpoint of a water rights precedent or an environmental precedent, but it all boils down to how the state is going to manage its reso u rces.” For environmentalists, in a rare instance, nature might actually get a proper hearing. Under Texas water law, until the SMRF permit is, resolved, much of the GBRA’s big-dollar water plans are junior to the coastal estuaries. “We can spend all the time in the world discussing these issues because our application has priority,” notes Wassenich. 28 THE TEXAS 08Sr’ ‘121/02