New Program Measures in Store for ASR Leasing, VISPO
Two of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan’s (EAHCP) top spring flow protection measures have recently been updated to reflect future needs in meeting the Edwards Region’s Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ASR Spring Flow Protection Program will change the most while VISPO (Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Program Option ) is only receiving slight modifications. Extensive computer modeling show that those two programs will provide the greatest levels of protection to flows at Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs with the occurrence of an extended dry period similar to the drought of record from the 1950s.
The ASR Program will be doing away with all short-term leases and replacing them with a single, 10-year agreement. Because the EAA and SAWS have worked together to store nearly enough actual water in SAWS’ Aquifer Storage and Recovery facility to meet anticipated drought-related needs under the program, the ASR Program will now move to a forbearance system similar to VISPO’s. That means if the new ASR Program triggers in a given year, permit holders enrolled in the program will not be allowed to use that enrolled water in the upcoming year. Outside of the forbearance years, permit holders will be able to use their water as they typically do. In doing extensive research on how often ASR might trigger, EAA staff predict that will happen in drought of record conditions similar to the 1950s. The trigger for ASR is a 10-year rolling recharge average of 500,000 acre-feet. That means each year an analysis of the previous 10 years of Edwards Aquifer recharge will be analyzed. If the average for that 10-year period falls below the 500,000 acre-foot amount, that will trigger the ASR forbearance for the following year.
The original ASR Leasing Program was open to only unrestricted water rights, but due to the fact that the new program will be one of forbearance rather than pumping and storing actual water, all water, restricted and unrestricted, will be eligible for the program. And while the agreement is listed as a 10-year agreement, all agreements will expire in 2028 when the federal permit making this program necessary is up for renewal.
“We’ve been working for months in developing the program parameters and discussing ideas with stakeholders around the region,” said Marc Friberg, Executive Director of External and Regulatory Affairs for the EAA. “Our goal was to strike a balance between the right market pricing and the most appropriate forbearance triggering. We believe we are in a good place now with ASR potentially triggering only in drought of record conditions and a stable $100 per acre foot lease price. We’ve already had good interest, so we’ll see how sign-ups go over the next several months.”
VISPO, which is open to eligible irrigation water rights permit holders, is also renewing agreements. The only changes to VISPO going forward include offering five-year renewal agreements and replacing the original 1.5 percent annual price escalator with a higher set price. Current VISPO pricing includes a $54 per acre-foot per year standby fee in years that the program does not trigger. A $160 per acre-foot price in forbearance years in addition to the standby rate ($54 per acre-foot) brings the total to $214 per acre-foot paid in years the program does trigger. New VISPO enrollees may be considered if current participants elect not to enroll.
There are 96 VISPO contracts coming due that represent 25,300 acre-feet of water. The Edwards Aquifer Authority team is working now to get those agreements renewed by the end of May.
“Now that we have the final pricing set for the ASR Leasing Program at $100 per acre foot, we can start to work with permit holders in helping them decide whether the program is right for them,” Friberg noted. “In addition to this newsletter, we have produced other flyers and updated our website to present the various program components. There is a limit on how much water we can lease, so I would encourage all permit holders to take a serious look at these leasing opportunities and to give us a call if they are trying to decide which program best meets their needs.”