Can Endangered Freshwater Mussels Save the Hill Country?
In December, 2009, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department listed fifteen native freshwater mussel species as threatened with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering six freshwater mussel species for federal endangered species status. The ‘Austin American-Statesman’ reports that the USFWS may make a decision on this listing before the end of this year. Endangered status for these rare mussels could have a profound effect on land and water resource regulation in the Colorado River watershed.
A group of landowners in a wealthy subdivision just west of Fredericksburg is trying to use the presence of a threatened mussel species to fight LCRA TSC’s plan to cross their property with the Kendall to Gillespie CREZ line. Live Oak Creek, a tributary of the Pedernales River, runs through Settlers’ Ridge subdivision and is home to a well documented population of the threatened Texas fatmucket mussel. Texas Parks and Wildlife has designated this part of Live Oak Creek a mussel sanctuary, and the landowners there are managing their land in ways compatible with the survival of the mussels.
On February 16, 2010, lawyers for the Settlers Ridge landowners sent a twenty eight page notice to the Public Utility Commission of Texas concerning the proposed LCRA CREZ line’s effect on the Live Oak Creek mussel sanctuary. The attorneys pointed out that LCRA had provided no alternate routes to avoid crossing Live Oak Creek. The notice included a very thorough study of the Settlers’ Ridge mussels done by a consulting biologist.
After the July 28th announcement of a preferred route for the CREZ line the Settlers Ridge group filed to intervene in the case, and their attorneys immediately made a motion to the Administrative Law Judge in the docket on the basis of "route inadequacy," asking LCRA TSC to offer an alternative to crossing Live Oak Creek and possibly harming the mussels there. Five days after their motion was filed LCRA TSC responded with a fifty two page rebuttal. The LCRA reply claimed that the subdivision itself might be harming the mussels while the CREZ line might not, and having to avoid Live Oak Creek would send the 345 power line clear around Fredericksburg, almost in a circle.
The same day LCRA filed their reply, August 16th, PUC staff filed a request with the Administrative Law Judge on the docket to deny Settlers’ Ridge’s request for additional routes. They reason that the proposed line was too close to Fredericksburg to move, that any effects on the fatmucket could be ‘mitigated,’ and that TPWD had not made a final report on the entire line route:
"Staff believes that it would be premature to require LCRA TSC to add routes to the Application because of environmental concerns, effectively causing the case to be dismissed because of the statutory deadline, until TPWD’s comments have been received."
Settlers’ Ridge attorneys responded two days later reiterating their request for the creation of an alternate route or a hearing on the question of ‘route adequacy.’
TPWD’s county by county listing of threatened and endangered species does not note the fatmucket’s occurrence here in Mason County, but does give us credit for hosting another threatened and possibly endangered mussel, the smooth pimpleback. A local riverine conservationist calls this mussel’s name "an oxymoron," but it isn’t much odder than all the other freshwater mussels including the Texas fawnfoot and the dreaded ‘heelsplitter.’
The PUC staff’s lack of concern for a TPWD registered sanctuary for a threatened species on privately owned land does not bode well for landowners who hope to use endangered species or other special features to keep the CREZ line off their property.