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Belton: Salado Salamander Expected To Be Hot Topic At Upcoming Meeting

By: brittany.semadeni@kwtx.com
By: brittany.semadeni@kwtx.com

Belton (May 10, 2013)—Several items will be discussed at Tuesday’s Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District board meeting including the Salado Salamander, a hot topic in recent months.

The Bell County coalition of stakeholders and the United States Fish and Wildlife Services are continuing talks in an effort to reach a verdict on whether or not the Salado Salamander is an endangered species.

A federal decision is expected in August on listing the Austin Blind Salamander, the Jollyville Plateau Salamander, the Georgetown Salamander and the Salado Salamander as endangered.

Last August, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a proposed rule to list the Salado Salamander and the three other salamanders as endangered and to designate 372 acres as a critical habitat for the species.

According to USFWS, “The most significant threat to these four species is degradation of their aquatic habitat in the form of reduced water quality, resulting from increasing urbanization in the area.”

However, the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District (UGWD) and Bell County Commissioners Court are in disagreement with the rule citing flawed conclusions.

The Clearwater UGWD submitted comments to USFWS last year explaining that existing regulatory mechanisms in the geographical region of Bell County ensures continuous springflows and thereby protects water quantity and water quality.

In the last year, the Bell County coalition of stakeholders has grown to include county officials, Clearwater UWCD, Salado WSC, Jarrell-Schwertner Water Supply Corporation and the Village of Salado.
The stakeholders have funded an effort to “study, understand, dispute, interpret and react.”

In March the group filed a second round of public comment on the proposal after further research and tests were completed.

The comment concluded that “based on the studies conducted to date, the stakeholders continue to be of the position that the Salado Salamander does not merit listing and that designation of critical habitat is unnecessary to protect the survivability of the Salado Salamander.”

Around the same time, consultants for Williamson County said the economic impact of listing the four salamander species as endangered could top half a billion dollars, not the $29 million projected by the U.S. government.

Consultants for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation dispute the federal figures.

On Tuesday, the board will provide any updates to the salamander controversy and discuss any new issues that may have arisen in the last few months.

That meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the Clearwater UWCD Main Office on Kennedy Court.

Other items on the agenda include proposed drilling permits for new wells in Bell County.


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