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Watershed Protection Master

Thursday, February 8, 2001 by

Plan makes first appearance

Phase One findings and recommendations

The newly unveiled Watershed Protection Master Plan “determined that watershed problems are pervasive and will worsen if corrective action is not taken.” In addition, “creek flooding poses a recurring citywide risk to public safety and property,” according to Joe Pantalion of the Watershed Protection Department, who presented the plan to the Environmental Board last night. He said 7,000 to 8,000 homes and businesses are in the 100-year flood plain; a relatively small, two-year storm causes structure flooding in 14 of the 17 Phase I watersheds; over 4,000 localized flooding complaints have been logged in the last 10 years for buildings, streets and yards; and nearly 500 sites, many of them homes built along creeks 30 or 40 years ago, are in danger because of widening creeks due to urbanization.

Urbanization has not only led to serious degradation of water quality, but “increased storm flows from urban development have accelerated streambank erosion, leading to enlarged and unstable creek channels,” he stated. “Future development is predicted to continue the trend of degrading habitat and creek biology and increasing pollutant levels in local surface waters.” With rapid growth, the problem is now becoming a suburban problem as well, he added.

Phase I of the master plan recommends a combination of solutions. Funding needs for Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) exceed $800 million, Pantalion said, noting that just solving creek-flooding problems alone would cost $300 to $500 million. Such projects would include detention ponds and other flood, erosion and water quality controls, he said. The plan proposes such expenditures over a 40-year period, but even at $20 million a year, it will take some creativity to generate the funding, he noted. The city drainage fee is dedicated to watershed protection and can be used for CIP projects, he said. Bond elections are also a possibility. A specific proposal for funding, however, will be determined in a later phase of the plan, he said.

Adequate funding is critical to the effectiveness of the master plan, thus more funding is necessary, he stressed.

Board Chair Lee Leffingwell said the board decided five years ago to create a master plan. A Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) was appointed and work began. The plan is a product of many hours of volunteer work, staff effort and input from citizens and consultants.

Mary Arnold, a former Environmental Board member, is chair of the CAG. Other CAG members present were Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, and Skip Cameron, president of the Bull Creek Foundation.

Cameron, a CAG member from the beginning, said the plan is the most comprehensive and well-thought-out master plan he’s ever seen, and he urged citizens to support it and get involved. “The process was extremely deliberate, slow and frustrating at times,” he said, but now that it’s complete, his focus is on “doing, not planning.”

Jay Davis, who lives along Shoal Creek, told the board he has lost “upwards of 45 feet” of his backyard due to erosion in the last two years. He showed a video clip of a news article from KEYE featuring his plight. “I’m willing to help and get in and do what I can do,” he said, but he urged the city “to at least remove the rubble the city has left there.” He claims city workers have installed pipes and manholes that have diverted water in such a way that it has increased erosion, further undermining his property. He has lost several elm and oak trees, he said, and his house would be next.

“We’re all on your side up here,” Leffingwell said.

Board Member Joyce Conner asked Pantalion what the city was doing about Davis’ disappearing backyard. Pantalion said the city was looking into it. “It’s just a matter of trying to do a lot with a little bit of funding,” he said. “As you can see from the presentation, we have more than 500 projects” that need attention, he said.

In light of the serious erosion problem threatening Davis’ house, Board Member Buzz Avery asked city staff about a point mentioned in last week’s discussion on granting a variance to Temple Beth Israel for new construction near Shoal Creek. He said staff had said nothing was planned for upgrading Shoal Creek. George Oswald of the Watershed Protection Department said the city is building a major water detention pond in the Shoal Creek watershed north of US 183 and another project is underway in Pease Park. “Shoal Creek is a very typical urbanized creek,” he said, therefore providing limited options for improvement. “We’re reaching a point of diminishing returns” in what we can do, he said. “We’d literally be taking out the buildings we want to protect,” he said. “The master plan is only as good as the funding,” he added.

Board Member Ramon Alvarez said, “I’m coming away with a real sense of urgency” to implement this plan. The magnitude of the problems versus the allotted funding tells him the priority of this plan must be elevated, “but I’m just not hopeful,” he said.

Pantalion said he hopes there will be more funding available in the future. For now, the plan will go before various city boards and commissions and then the City Council.

A subcommittee of the board, consisting of Conner, Vice Chair Tim Jones (who was absent), and Board Member Phil Moncada, will meet with the CAG next week and make a recommendation on the plan to the board on February 21.

Commissioners recommend deal

On Davenport MUD treatment plant

Rivercrest WSC to get 30-year wholesale water contract

The Water & Wastewater Commission last night approved a resolution to authorize sale of the city’s interests in a water treatment plant in the former Davenport Ranch Municipal Utility District (MUD) and to execute a settlement agreement with the Loop 360 Water Supply Corp., Rivercrest Water Supply Corp. (RWSC) and Davenport Ltd. In addition, if the City Council approves the deal, the city will negotiate a wholesale water agreement with RWSC.

When the city annexed the western Travis County MUD in 1997, it acquired the MUD’s assets and obligations. The MUD had been supplying water to Loop 360 WSC and Rivercrest. Upon annexation, the city concluded that the area did not have sufficient infrastructure for future water needs, according to Bart Jennings of the Water & Wastewater Utility. Jennings said the city entered into an agreement with the other three parties to share the water facilities for a limited time. Last summer, the city constructed a 24-inch water line to serve its customers in the former MUD. Loop 360 WSC is continuing to receive water from the MUD’s treatment plant. Rivercrest is receiving water from the city, but still has a financial interest in the plant.

Under the proposal, Loop 360 will purchase the entire interest in the water treatment plant, from which the city will receive $836,964. The city will purchase the water storage facilities and mains that are located within the annexed MUD to serve its own customers. The price tag on that is $183,605. Rivercrest proposes to enter into a standard 30-year wholesale water contract with the city, Jennings said. The city expects to provide special rates to Rivercrest for the first six years of the contract. Jennings said Rivercrest would receive a rate of 93 cents credit per one thousand gallons of water. That credit will be applied to an average of 396,085 gallons per day on a monthly basis. In a previous contract, the city had agreed that Loop 360 and Rivercrest could purchase the city’s water capacity from the treatment plant.

Ronnie Jones, an attorney for the city, told the commission that he believed the agreement would remove any potential litigation issues between the city and the other parties. Commissioner Lanetta Cooper asked what happens if the city’s water costs go up. Jones said, “They only get 93 cents credit to the rate because that represents the amount they are currently paying for water in the shared water facility. Six years is the useful life of the facility. They were purchasing water from it and they were paying fixed costs.”

Jones said the six years was “a negotiated term. Rivercrest wanted more, but we thought that was fair,” he explained. Commission Chair Darwin McKee and Commissioners Jim Haley, Aida Douglas and Cooper voted in favor of the proposal. Commissioner Michael Wilson abstained.

In other action, the Commission recommended adding up to $73,500 to a contract with Gray-Jansing and Associates, Inc. for an expanded study of feasible routes for conveying wastewater from Davenport Ranch to the Cross Town Tunnel.

According to Michael Boyle, a civil engineer with the utility, the previous plan to extend the line across the Loop 360 Bridge“is not popular and we might not get TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) permission.” Boyle said the utility has asked Gray-Jansing “to look at a completely different route” for the line.

Boyle explained that the line is likely to go under the river. He said the line would be “dual containment” to prevent leakage into the river or groundwater.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Added to the Stratus committee . . . Water & Wastewater Commission Chair Darwin McKee and Commissioner Lanetta Cooper were the only volunteers last night willing to sign up for the extra duty of considering development plans for Stratus Properties. McKee said, “I don’t know if anyone else is stupid enough to volunteer.” The absent commission members— Dacio Marin, Chien Lee, Michael Warner and Kim McPherson—can expect a call from McKee . . . More pain downtown . . . East 5th Street from Trinity to Red River will be closed to ALL traffic for two months beginning Saturday. It is currently reduced to two lanes. The detour is related to relocation of a 66-inch water line and is part of Convention Center expansion . . . Annexation costs . . . The Water & Wastewater Commission approved amending contracts with three firms— Baker-Aicklen & Associates, Inc., Kurkjian Engineering Corp. and Raymond Chan & Assoc., Inc.—for additional design and construction services for the area of the city annexed in 1997. The increase approved was $1.2 million, for a total agreement of up to $4.16 million. The City Council is scheduled to consider the contract amendment next week.

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