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LCRA releases environmental

Wednesday, October 31, 2001 by

Study on Hays County water line

All scenarios show increased population, pollution

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) yesterday released a long-awaited environmental impact study of the water line the agency is building to serve Hays County. The LCRA agreed to do the study with oversight from the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) because of concerns that the water line, and increased population over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, would adversely affect the endangered Barton Springs salamander. Bio-West Inc., a Utah consulting firm, performed the study.

The study estimates that the population of southwestern Travis and northern Hays could nearly double to 200,000 by 2025. Karen Bondy, chief engineer for the LCRA, told In Fact Daily that the pipeline would cause a “one-time increase of about 20 percent, or 10,000 people,” in the area. But 80 percent of the increased population growth would occur in southwestern Travis County, the study says.

The phone-book sized study evaluates the environmental impacts of the line under three different scenarios: A) that the water line serves only existing development; B) that the water line serves any new development that agrees to comply with FWS guidelines for protection of water quality; and C) the likely preference of environmentalists—that all new developments follow FWS guidelines, regardless of whether they receive water from the LCRA. The final scenario would require regional planning, which has been under discussion for some time.

According to the study, regardless of which alternative is ultimately chosen, the area will continue to experience growth. “The acres of residential land use in the study area are anticipated to increase by approximately 97 percent,” the study says, noting that impervious cover in the area would grow from an average of five percent to 7.7 percent. At the same time, “pollutant loads in surface water are projected to increase by a range of 25 to 40 percent for most of the constituents studied.”

Assessing pollutants

One of the major tasks was an assessment of pollutants that would be discharged into Barton Springs as a result of population growth over the aquifer. Bondy said pollutants were “picked on the basis of what was available.” Key indicators were picked from the elements that would threaten the salamander, she noted. Those include total suspended solids, diazinon, prometon and zinc. Increased total suspended solids (TSS) are primarily caused by construction. Diazinon and prometon are constituents of pesticides. Zinc is a heavy metal associated with tires, brakes and pesticides, and as a byproduct of auto work.

The FWS has recommended that construction projects in the Barton Springs Zone not increase the amount of total suspended solids, phosphorous oil and grease that go into runoff from such sites because these threaten the salamander. Pollutants and heavy metals bind with TSS to make them even more of a threat. Each alternative scenario was evaluated in terms of TSS and a number of other pollutants. The figures for TSS show that the current level is slightly more than 58 million kg. per year. Under alternative A, that number rises to nearly 73 million kg. per year if the line is built and serves the approximately 4,600 platted, existing or approved connections it is anticipated to serve, but no additional measures are undertaken to prevent pollution.

Under Alternative B, which the LCRA proposes, all new development would be allowed to hook up to the water line, but would be required to implement FWS water quality regulations. The result would be slightly more than 66 million kg. of TSS per year, or an increase of about 14 percent over the current level, but nine percent less than the first alternative. If the whole area developed and adopted a regional plan to protect water quality, that figure would drop to about 63 million kg., the study says.

Bondy explained that the LCRA has designed protection measures to prevent degradation of water quality from the sites served by the pipeline. However, she said, “You have other pollutants from people being on the land and from cars sitting at store parking lots.” Those are the areas that would be addressed by adoption of a regional plan.

A number of technical and stakeholder groups assisted Bio-West in doing the study. Representatives of the FWS, the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the City of Bee Cave, the City of Buda, Hays County, Dripping Springs ISD, the Sierra Club, Sunset Canyon landowners, Take Back Texas, developer John Lloyd and numerous other area entities served as the stakeholder advisory group. Representatives of the City of Austin, the University of Texas, US Geological Survey, the Texas Water Development Board, local water resources engineers, hydrogeologists and the endangered species coordinator of the Environmental Protection Agency served as a technical advisory group.

The report can be found at http://www.hayscountywater.com or at the county clerk’s offices in the Travis and Hays County courthouses. The public is invited to make written comments by Dec. 14. The LCRA also will sponsor public hearings on Nov. 12 in Dripping Springs and Nov. 28 in Austin.

Commissioners postpone

Action on waste site plan

Companies complain but public applauds proposal

The first draft of the county’s proposed solid waste siting ordinance drew some strong words Tuesday from the companies that will have to face the new limitations.

State law now allows counties to draw up ordinances limiting solid waste facilities on the basis of land use issues. County environmental officer John Kuhl described Travis County’s proposed ordinance as “another stop” along the way to getting a permit from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), one that includes variances for companies that believe the county’s limitations to be a hardship.

Commissioners Court declined to take action on the ordinance because Judge Sam Biscoe was out of town. Commissioners will take up the issue next week, remarking that in the interim they would welcome additional comments from both the community and waste companies.

Community groups strongly supported the ordinance. Trek English of the Northeast Action Group said her community had learned the hard way that land use was no issue when the TNRCC granted landfill permits. More than one square mile of landfill space is located in North Austin, with little of it subject to buffers or controls, English said. Local residents were subject to an eyesore that can be seen from many major roadways.

Landfill companies ought to be concerned, English said, because they are finally facing the payback from the long years of neglect of their own properties.

Landfill companies on hand for yesterday’s public hearing, however, described the proposed ordinance as a tool that could seriously hamper the existing capacity for the disposal of garbage inside Travis County. Company officials from BFI and Waste Management were concerned that the ordinance could seriously hamper existing landfills.

“When you place an ordinance over the existence of existing landfills, you immediately call into question all of your reserves, all of your capacity,” attorney Mark Rhoades, who represents BFI, told the court. “All of this is interrelated.”

The new ordinance limits landfill siting almost completely to the eastern edges of the county. Other limitations include stipulations that landfills must be:

• At least 1,500 feet from water wells, schools, churches and parks • More than 500 feet from the 100-year flood plain • At least 500 feet from the recharge zones of any aquifer • At least 3,000 from surface water lakes More than 10,000 feet from a runway with jet aircraft if the landfill will manage putrescible (organic decaying) waste.

Grandfathering and treatment of existing facilities was the chief question among the waste companies. Continued high growth could also eliminate future potential sites.

Other issues raised included the desire to see greater distinctions among recycling, solid waste and organic waste facilities, latitude to put together parcels of land to make an investment in landfill space worthwhile and the ability to expand current sites. Companies warned that one form of fallout from the ordinance could be the shortened life span of existing landfills, which could in turn lead to higher fees to haul garbage out of the county. “The likely results of this ordinance may be that we might not be able to take care of our own obligations long-term in a fair and competitive way,” Rhoades told the commissioners. “We may not have the capacity beyond what has already been planned.”

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Good news for Stratus . . . Stratus Properties has reached an agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to allow development of its Circle C properties in Travis and Hays Counties. In response to promises made by Stratus concerning water quality protection, FWS Supervisor David Frederick has written to Stratus, “We concur that development of the proposed project as described, is not likely to adversely affect the Barton Springs salamander, Golden-cheeked warbler or Black-capped vireo.” Stratus began informal talks with the FWS in June to try to reach an agreement with the federal agency. The agency is most concerned about water quality measures, because water quality directly impacts the viability of the endangered salamander. The letter notes that the properties do not contain vireo habitat, but Stratus has committed to survey for Golden-cheeked warblers . . . Lawsuit over . . . A settlement announced between Cedar Park and Capital Metro this week ended a lawsuit that city filed had against the transit agency over the amount of taxes they owed Cap Metro. The agreement will provide Cedar Park with land to expand its municipal justice center. A lease of 6.2 acres from Capital Metro will save the city a million dollars and give Cedar Park needed room to expand . . . Good news during financial uncertainty . . . Financial advisers have told Travis County commissioners that low interest rates saved the county $390,000 on the issuance of a little over $19 million in certificates of obligation last week . . . Fundraising continues . . . The combined charities campaign for Travis County employees has been extended through Nov. 15. So far, the fund-raising effort has netted a little over $27,400 for local charities . . . Appointees . . . The City Council has made the following appointments: Thomas Lewis to the Bond Oversight Committee by consensus; Mario Lorenzo Sanchez to the Historic Landmark Commission by consensus; Paul (Pablo) Valdez by consensus to the Parks and Recreation Board; Vicki Beal McDonald to the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission by consensus; Lark Anthony by consensus and Tracy K. Sosa by Mayor Kirk Watson to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission. Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerly was reappointed to the Animal Advisory Commission by consensus also . . . Confused by those ballot propositions? . . The League of Women Voters explains arguments regarding 19 constitutional amendments at http://www.lwvtexas.org/vgrev.pdf and the county bond propositions at http://www.leaguewv.austin.tx.us/ guide20011106/travisctybond.html . . . Chamber launches clean air campaign . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce is hoping its new program to voluntarily reduce air pollution will help the city avoid sanctions because of the growing ozone problem. Bob Huston, chair of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, David Balfour, chair of the chamber’s Clean Air Task Force and Wade Thomason, executive director of the city’s Clean Air Force, will speak at today’s chamber luncheon. The event is scheduled for noon at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel.

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