US whooping crane lawsuit threatens five Texas petchem sites

05 December 2011 22:21  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A trial started on Monday regarding a lawsuit that could threaten the operations of five major petrochemical sites in Texas, which rely on water that a group of environmentalists contend should be going towards a flock of endangered whooping cranes.

The water provides subsistence to the last wild flock of whooping cranes, which spends their winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

After the size of the flock reached a high of 270 in the spring of 2008, 57 birds had died in the course of the year. Out of those deaths, 23 occurred in Texas, according to The Aransas Project, a group that includes bird watchers, eco-tourist companies, environmentalists and Aransas County, home of the wildlife refuge.

The cranes are dying because the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is allowing too much water to be diverted away from the refuge, The Aransas Project said.

The group is suing officials at the TCEQ, alleging that the water diversions killed the whooping cranes, in violation of the nation's Endangered Species Act. 

The group wants the TCEQ to stop diverting water in such a way that is killing cranes. If the TCEQ does allow water to be diverted, it must ensure that it will not kill any more whooping cranes.

The group also wants the TCEQ to develop a habitat conservation plan, which would include provisions to reduce water diversions during droughts or other times of low water levels in the rivers.

Otherwise, the whooping crane could become extinct if the diversions continue, the group said.

However, Texas's huge petrochemical industry needs that water, according to the Texas Chemical Council, a trade group that is intervening in the lawsuit on behalf of the TCEQ.

The lawsuit threatens the Victoria site owned by Invista; the Victoria site owned by DuPont; the Green Lake Plant owned by INEOS; the Victoria site owned by LyondellBasell Industries; and the Seadrift site owned by Union Carbide, a Dow Chemical subsidiary, the council said. These sites hold the right to about 68,226 acre-feet of water/year.

If these chemical plants do not receive enough water, they could reduce production or even shut down, the Texas Chemical Council said.

The lawsuit could also interfere with hydroelectric generation, water plants and sewage plants among others, according to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which acts as a water broker. It buyers rights from the TCEQ and sells them to a 10-county area that would be affected by the lawsuit.

By: Al Greenwood
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