With construction of the new EAHCP refugia buildings at the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center in high gear, the next step in establishing a long-term refugia program will be the finish-out of the refugia facility in Uvalde. Situated on 100 acres of former mesquite grasslands a few miles outside of downtown Uvalde, staff at the Uvalde National Fish Hatchery are preparing for the renovation of the “tank house” to meet the needs of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan.
“This facility is one of two like it in the State of Texas, the other being our facility in San Marcos,” said Dr. Dave Britton, who serves as deputy director for the Uvalde and San Marcos centers. “And while our Uvalde facility carries the name of being a fish hatchery, our mission has evolved so that we focus on providing refugia for imperiled species and the type of research needed to make programs like the EAHCP successful.
We deal with species federally listed as threatened and endangered, and some that are not yet listed, found only in Texas springs. They exist nowhere else in the world except in those locations.”
Britton noted that once the San Marcos and Uvalde refugia are completed, they will be similar in terms of staffing and housing for the endangered species associated with the Edwards Aquifer.
“Both refugia facilities will have quarantine buildings, Edwards Aquifer well water, equipment to condition the water, separate operations structures to house Edwards Aquifer species and personnel to include a group of bio-technicians, a supervisor and project leaders,” Britton explained. “The idea behind refugia is to collect imperiled species from the wild, simulate their habitats in captivity as best we can, and grow the populations in the refugia so that we can reintroduce the species back into the wild in the event of some catastrophic event. The refugia at the Uvalde Fish Hatchery will mirror the refugia at the San Marcos facility, each serving as a backup to the other.”
In addition to the refugia, the Uvalde facilities at the hatchery include 50 ponds, a newly completed intensive culturing facility and a high-tech water supply system. The two-acre wildlife pond located across from the visitor center features a walking path with several points for bird watching and wildlife observation. The hatchery also features an outdoor classroom as part of its environmental education program. The tank house which will house the Edwards Aquifer endangered species is located adjacent to the main office building.
“Simply put, our goals are to keep the endangered species alive in captivity, provide the healthiest conditions so they can reproduce, and then learn how to successfully reintroduce them into the wild so they survive,” Britton explained. “We know a good deal about the fountain darter and Texas Wild Rice. But, we have a lot to learn about the salamanders, beetles and amphipods. So, we’re developing a research plan to help us fill in those knowledge gaps.”
Britton said that the plans for the renovation are done and that he expects all construction work to be completed in 2018.