[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 43 (Wednesday, March 5, 2014)]
[Pages 12522-12523]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-04825]

[[Page 12522]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2013-0128]; [FXES11120200000F2-145-FF02ENEH00]

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the 
Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District for Proposed 
Incidental Take Permit Addressing Take of Two Federally Listed Species 
in Central Texas

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent, announcement of public scoping period, and 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the 
public that we intend to prepare a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) 
to evaluate the impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed issuance 
of an incidental take permit to the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer 
Conservation District (District). The permit, issued under the 
Endangered Species Act, as amended (Act), would allow for potential 
take of two federally listed species associated with the ongoing 
management and withdrawal of groundwater from the Barton Springs 
segment of the Edwards Aquifer (Aquifer) in Central Texas.

DATES: Comments: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or 
before April 4, 2014. Comments submitted electronically using the 
Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section, below) must be 
received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. Any comments 
that we receive after the closing date may not be considered.
    Scoping Meeting: A public scoping meeting will be held within the 
District's jurisdictional area on a date to be announced. The notice of 
the exact meeting date, times, and location will be published at least 
2 weeks before the event in the Austin-American Statesman newspaper and 
on the Service's Austin Ecological Services Office Web site, http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/.

ADDRESSES: You may submit written comments by one of the following 
     Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2013-
0128, which is the docket number for this notice. On the left side of 
the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Notices link 
to locate this document and submit a comment.
     By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: 
Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2013-0128; Division of 
Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 
N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    Please note that your comments are in regard to the proposed Barton 
Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Habitat Conservation 
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Public Availability of 
Comments section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, 
Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, 
Austin, TX 78758-4460; telephone 512/490-0057; facsimile 512/490-0974; 
or email Adam_Zerrenner@fws.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The District proposes to develop a habitat 
conservation plan (HCP) and apply for an incidental take permit. The 
District HCP will include measures necessary to minimize and mitigate 
the impacts of potential taking of the endangered Barton Springs 
salamander (Eurycea sosorum) and Austin blind salamander (Eurycea 
waterlooensis) resulting from loss or degradation of habitats upon 
which they depend due to actions associated with the management and use 
of the Aquifer.
    The Service seeks information from stakeholders and the public 
necessary to determine impacts on the human environment and alternative 
actions to be considered in the EA that documents our decision 
regarding the potential issuance of an incidental take permit and 
implementation of the supporting draft HCP.


    Section 9 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) prohibits ``taking'' 
of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered under section 4 of 
the Act. Under the Act, the term ``take'' means to harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt 
to engage in any such conduct. The term ``harm'' is defined in the 
regulations as significant habitat modification or degradation that 
results in death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing 
essential behavior patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering 
(50 CFR 17.3). The term ``harass'' is defined in the regulations as 
actions that create the likelihood of injury to listed species to such 
an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which 
include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 
CFR 17.3). However, the Service may, under specified circumstances, 
issue permits that allow take of federally listed fish and wildlife, 
provided that the take occurs incidental to, but is not the purpose of, 
an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing permits for 
endangered species are at 50 CFR 17.22.
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act authorizes issuance of such 
incidental take permits to non-Federal entities for the take of 
endangered and threatened species, provided the following criteria are 
met: (1) The taking will be incidental; (2) The applicant will, to the 
maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impact of such 
taking; (3) The applicant will develop a draft habitat conservation 
plan and ensure that adequate funding for the plan will be provided; 
(4) The taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and (5) The applicant 
will carry out any other measures that we may require as being 
necessary or appropriate for the purposes of implementing the habitat 
conservation plan.
    The District is a political subdivision of the State of Texas, with 
a legislative mandate to conserve, preserve, and protect the 
groundwater resources, including springflows, of the aquifers within 
its jurisdictional area. The District regulates groundwater within its 
jurisdiction by adopting, implementing, and enforcing regulations and 
management programs that address water demand, springflow protection, 
aquifer recharge, and other management strategies.
    The purpose of issuing the proposed permit is to allow for the 
ongoing use of the waters of the Aquifer by end-users under the 
management authority of the District while conserving listed species 
and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Adoption of a multispecies 
habitat conservation approach, rather than a species-by-species or 
project-by-project approach, will reduce the costs of implementing 
minimization and mitigation measures for the covered species; and 
eliminate cost and time-consuming efforts associated with processing 
individual incidental take permits for each user of the Aquifer. In 
addition, the multispecies habitat conservation approach provides a 
program including avoidance,

[[Page 12523]]

minimization, and mitigation for each species that is coordinated on a 
landscape level that provides increased benefits to the covered 

Scoping Period and Meeting

    The purpose of scoping is to provide an early and open process to 
determine concerns to be addressed and to identify potentially 
significant issues related to the proposed action. The publication of 
this notice initiates a 30-day scoping period, during which 
stakeholders and the public are encouraged to provide input and 
recommendations to the Service. Specifically, the Service seeks to 
identify people or organizations interested in the proposed action, any 
potentially significant issues to be analyzed, gaps in data or 
information, and alternatives to the proposed action that should be 
    The Service will host an open house and public scoping meeting that 
will provide an opportunity for stakeholders and the public to provide 
comments and information on the scope of issues and alternatives to be 
considered. Comments can also be submitted electronically or at the 
address above at any time during the scoping period.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to providing access 
to this meeting for all participants. Please direct all requests for 
sign language interpreting services, closed captioning, or other 
accommodation needs with your request by close of business at least 3 
working days prior to the meeting date to Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field 
Supervisor, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 10711 Burnet Road, 
Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758-4460; telephone 512/490-0057; facsimile 
512/490-0974; or email Adam_Zerrenner@fws.gov, TTY 800-877-8339.


    The alternative actions will be compared to the No-Action 
alternative in the draft EA. The No-Action alternative represents the 
estimated future conditions under the existing management and use, to 
which the alternative action's estimated future conditions can be 
compared. The Service seeks comments and recommendations from 
stakeholders and the public regarding the alternatives under 
consideration and others that should be considered.

No-Action Alternative

    Under the No-Action alternative, the management and use of the 
Aquifer will continue regardless of whether an Incidental Take Permit 
is sought or issued. The District, and those covered by the proposed 
permit, would continue to be subject to the take prohibitions of the 
Act. Where potential impacts could not be avoided and where a Federal 
nexus exists, measures designed to minimize and mitigate for impacts 
would be addressed through individual formal or informal consultation 
with the Service. In the absence of a Federal nexus, parties engaging 
in actions that would affect protected species would comply with the 
Act by obtaining individual section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permits 
on a project-by-project basis.

Alternative Number One: Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Take Permit

    The proposed action is issuance of an incidental take permit based 
upon an HCP developed by the District. Texas counties that may be 
included in the proposed permit are those within the District's 
jurisdiction, including portions of Caldwell, Hays, and Travis 
Counties. The District has indicated their preference for a permit 
duration of 20 years.
    The actions to be covered under the requested incidental take 
permit have yet to be determined, but may include activities associated 
with the ongoing groundwater management and use of the Barton Springs 
segment of the Edwards Aquifer, and actions to protect spring flow at 
the multiple spring outlets located at Barton Springs.
    The alternative could allow for a comprehensive mitigation approach 
for unavoidable impacts to listed species while reducing permit 
processing effort for the Service.

Alternative Number Two: Water Demand Reduction

    Under this alternative, the District would create regulatory 
mechanisms that reduce pumping of fresh water from the Barton Springs 
Segment of the Edwards Aquifer during periods of drought. If such 
regulatory demand reductions could avoid adverse impacts to the listed 
species and their habitats, then no Incidental Take Permit would be 
required and none would be issued. If demand reduction regulatory 
programs could not avoid take of listed species, the District would 
develop an HCP that would minimize and mitigate impacts within their 
authorities to the maximum extent practicable and seek an Incidental 
Take Permit.

Alternative Number Three: Water Supply Augmentation and Substitution

    Under Alternative Number Three, supplies of freshwater pumped from 
the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer would be augmented or 
substituted with alternative supplies during periods of drought. If 
such enhancement or substitution actions could avoid take of the listed 
species, no Incidental Take Permit would be required and none would be 
issued. If these measures were not able to avoid all such take, the 
District would develop an HCP that would minimize and mitigate the 
impacts of such take to the maximum extent practicable and seek an 
Incidental Take Permit.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, email address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available 
at any time. While you can request in your comment that we withhold 
your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will not consider anonymous 
comments. All submissions from organizations or businesses, and from 
individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of 
organizations or businesses, will be made available for public 
disclosure in their entirety.


    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22) and the 
National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4721 et seq.) and its 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

Joy E. Nicholopoulos
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. 2014-04825 Filed 3-4-14; 8:45 am]