Data

General Issues
Environment
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Mining Industries
Planning & Development
Specific Topics
Environmental Conservation
Natural Resource Management
Regulatory Policy
Scope of Influence
Regional
Links
https://waterdisputes.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/edwards-aquifer-todd-votteler.pdf
https://journals.tdl.org/twj/index.php/twj/article/view/6423/6070
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Deliver goods & services
Approach
Co-governance
Spectrum of Public Participation
Collaborate
Total Number of Participants
70
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Targeted Demographics
Stakeholder Organizations
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
No
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Information & Learning Resources
name:learning_resources-key:no_information_was_provided_to_participants
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Voting
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
Regional Government
Funder
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Type of Funder
Regional Government
Staff
No
Volunteers
No
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Implementers of Change
Appointed Public Servants
Stakeholder Organizations
Formal Evaluation
No

CASE

The Edwards Aquifer: A Collaborative and Consensus-based Stakeholder Process

First Submitted By jnmensah

Most Recent Changes By richards1000_new

General Issues
Environment
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Mining Industries
Planning & Development
Specific Topics
Environmental Conservation
Natural Resource Management
Regulatory Policy
Scope of Influence
Regional
Links
https://waterdisputes.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/edwards-aquifer-todd-votteler.pdf
https://journals.tdl.org/twj/index.php/twj/article/view/6423/6070
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Deliver goods & services
Approach
Co-governance
Spectrum of Public Participation
Collaborate
Total Number of Participants
70
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Targeted Demographics
Stakeholder Organizations
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
No
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Information & Learning Resources
name:learning_resources-key:no_information_was_provided_to_participants
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Voting
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Type of Organizer/Manager
Regional Government
Funder
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Type of Funder
Regional Government
Staff
No
Volunteers
No
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Implementers of Change
Appointed Public Servants
Stakeholder Organizations
Formal Evaluation
No

The Edwards Aquifer is a source of groundwater that serves over 2 million people. There are endangered species that depend on the water from the aquifer. Because of these competing interests, a consensus-based stakeholder process was undertaken (Votteler, Gulley, 2014, p. 1).

Problems and Purpose

Sierra Club v. Babbitt was a U.S. District Court case that instructed the Texas Legislature to create a solution to protect federally listed endangered species in the San Marcos and Comal Springs. This emphasized the importance of “continuous minimum spring flows” (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013, p. 6) from the Edwards aquifer that these springs and the species within them relied on. The resulting goal was to find a way to manage the water flow from the aquifer while protecting the endangered species that relied on it. 

History

In 1991, the Sierra Club brought a suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The Sierra Club alleged that the FWS had violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to adequately protect listed species in the Comal and San Marcos Springs. The court ruled in favor of the Sierra Club, saying that the Texas legislature should “act immediately to protect the species... before the ‘blunt axes’ of Federal intervention have to be dropped’” (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013, p. 6). 

As a result, the Texas Legislature created the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) to help regulate the aquifer withdrawals. However, solutions were delayed because of multiple lawsuits as well as the low financial feasibility of some options. As a result, in 2007 the Texas Legislature through Senate Bill 3 ordered the EAA, the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas Water Development Board to “’cooperatively develop a recovery implementation program’ through a facilitated, consensus-based stakeholder process” (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013, p. 10) in order to prevent federal intervention that would have had to happen otherwise. This was the first time such an endeavor was taken on in relation to the Edwards Aquifer. 

Originating Entities and Funding

This process was legally forced into action through Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) from Texas, that directed the EAA, the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas Water Development Board to create a recovery implementation program (RIP) (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013). The FWS provided input into the process, and funding was provided by the EAA and other stakeholders, with limited amounts of federal and state funding secured later (Votteler, Gulley, 2014). 

Originating Entities and Funding

This process was legally forced into action through Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) from Texas, that directed the EAA, the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Texas Water Development Board to create a recovery implementation program (RIP) (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013). The FWS provided input into the process, and funding was provided by the EAA and other stakeholders, with limited amounts of federal and state funding secured later (Votteler, Gulley, 2014). 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Outside of the original four entities ordered to take part, SB 3 also called for “a steering committee to oversee and assist in the development of the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program” (EARIP) (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013, p. 11). 21 of these members were established in SB 3, with five additional members included through targeted recruiting to ensure diverse representation on the committee (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013.) (Votteler, Gulley, 2014). The process outside of the steering committee was open to any interested stakeholder. Between self-selection and targeted recruitment, a total of 39 stakeholder groups/individuals took part, including those that were on the steering committee (Votteler, Gulley 2014). Participants included government authorities, environmental groups, and businesses, including: San Antonio River Authority, cities of San Marcos, Victoria, and Castroville, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Dow Chemical Company, and the Texas Farm Bureau, to name a few (Texas A&M n.d.) 

Methods and Tools Used

The overall method involved was a multistakeholder group process (as defined here) with an emphasis on consensus, with the Steering Committee defining consensus “as the absence of opposition to a decision” (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013, p. 15). Procedurally speaking, this translated into a rule that required 75% of Steering Committee members to agree when opposition occurred. However, Gulley and Cantwell say that that decisions were generally made without the need for a vote by the Steering Committee (2013), with Votteler and Gulley stating that “this option only need to be relied upon twice during the six years of negotiations” (2014 p. 10). 

No information indicates what technologies were used during the process. 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Although public organizations took part, and the process was open to interested stakeholders, there was no mention of the greater public taking a direct part in the
deliberations, or of the results being communicated directly to the public. Additionally, there is no indication that there was no facilitation during the process. Regarding the ability for the stakeholders to achieve consensus, Votteler and Gulley and Gulley and Cantwell stated that the stakeholders had a clear understanding that this process was the last chance to achieve a regional decision as opposed to one involving federal intervention. Additionally, the realization of likely litigation if a solution was not reached was further reinforced by the occurrence of severe droughts during the process (2014) (2013). 

Another aspect that helpful was the establishment of a transparent process that allowed stakeholders to develop trust with one another. Additionally, stakeholders agreed that a final decision could not be reached until all issues were resolved, and deadlines imposed by SB 3 helped stakeholders focus and maintain momentum. A part that was also believed to be critical was that stakeholders took ownership of the process, which lead to compromises when the group hit a deliberative wall (Gulley, Cantwell, 2013) (Votteler, Gulley, 2014). 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Overall results came out as intended, as the main outcomes of this was a consensus based habitat conservation plan (HCP) that addresses the need for endangered species protection while allowing for water to be drawn for the aquifer (Texas A&M n.d.) (Gulley and Cantwell, 2013) (Votteler and Gulley, 2014). The HCP is still in place today, with a report from March of 2018 providing recommendations including aquifer storage and recovery, habitat protection and restoration, water quality protection, and riparian restoration, among other things (Blanton & Associates, Inc.). Additionally, the process also resulted in increased trust between stakeholders and stakeholders taking ownership of the process. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Although the HCP is still being implemented and full scale of the resulting effects has yet to be seen (Votteler & Gulley, 2014), this case still provides an example for successful collaboration between multiple stakeholders from different backgrounds. Part of the reason for success was the situation itself. Fear of federal involvement, which, along with directives from SB 3, pushed stakeholders to come to a consensus. The presence of severe drought and possible litigation resulting from that also emphasized the need for consensus. Additionally, the ability to build trust between stakeholders was significant, as well as stakeholders agreeing that all issues had to be resolved before coming to a final decision, and the stakeholders taking ownership of the process (Votteler & Gulley, 2014). Although there is no formal evaluation of the process, Votteler and Gulley indicate that participants were satisfied with the outcome, as they say that the Steering Committee only had to vote on a decision twice over six years of negotions (2014). 

Secondary Sources

Blanton & Associates, Inc. (2018) Edwards aquifer habitat conservation plan 2017 annual report 

Gulley, R. L., & Cantwell, J. B. (2013). The Edwards aquifer water wars: the final chapter?. Texas Water Journal, 4(1), 1-21.      

Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. Edwards aquifer recovery implementation Program. http://www.pcwp.tamu.edu/media/233160/earip.pdf 

Votteler, T. & Gulley, R. (2014, Jun. 15). The edwards aquifer habitat conservation plan: resolution to over 50 years of water dispute. The Water Report, 124, 1-10. Retrieved from https://waterdisputes.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/edwards-aquifer-todd- votteler.pdf. 

External Links

Notes

This case study was written by Caleb Denton, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in this case study are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.