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Buda seeking more water from aquifer

Tuesday, July 20, 2004 by

Wastewater treatment plant due expansion also

In Hays County, local politics constantly swirls around growth and water issues. The idea that development follows the availability of water is a staple of the arguments coming from an unlikely combination of environmentalists looking to protect the Edwards Aquifer and conservatives who do not want to see sleepy communities become densely packed suburbs.

The city of Buda, arguably the fastest growing in the county, is currently authorized by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) to pump 200 million gallons of water per year from the aquifer. They have asked the district to authorize the pumpage of an additional 75 million gallons per year. The proposal will go to the board, according to Buda City Administrator Bob Mathis, as soon as it can be put on the agenda. Mathis said the city would soon publish a notice in the local newspaper and would conduct a pump test this week.

Buda is also expanding its wastewater treatment plant from a facility that emits Type Two effluent to Type One. The planned upgrade will cost the city just over $6 million, but according to Mathis, the difference between the two grades of effluent is critical since Type One effluent can be used for irrigation purposes that allow for possible human contact. Mathis described how as an Air Force base commander he drank some Type One effluent as a demonstration of its safety. The “purple pipe,” as the effluent pipe is called, may provide water for a soon-to-be-built five-acre retention pond on the site where the Cabela’s Corporation plans a 175,000-square-foot hunting and sporting goods retail center just off southbound I-35.

The wastewater plant currently discharges into Plum creek, a fairly small waterway that runs between Buda and its slightly larger sister city, Kyle. A year and a half ago, Kyle was fined $130,000 for overpumping its 55-million-gallon permit by 89 million gallons. Buda’s current request shows that the city is projecting its needs and keeping up with its pumpage, according to Mayor John Trube.

“We need more water,” Trube said. “It’s both commercial and residential . . . I don’t think they are new water needs. I think these water needs have been projected for a year and a half.”

Thanks to recent rains, the BSEACD recently took the ever present drought-monitoring item off of the agenda, and directors have been optimistic that this summer may not leave the aquifer at crisis levels as has happened the past few years. The June rains caused local streams like Garlic and Onion Creeks to flow heavily, blocking low-level roads and overflowing small dams.

Buda’s newly annexed areas include several new subdivisions and properties such as the Giberson-Rea tract just west of the city, where B&W Development has started moving ahead with the controversial Whispering Hollow subdivision (formerly known as Garlic Creek West). The city is facing a lawsuit by the Save Our Springs Alliance and the newly formed Buda Community Action Network(Buda CAN) over Whispering Hollow. SOS and Buda CAN argue that there are recharge features on the Giberson property and that the Buda council violated its own regulations regarding impervious cover over the aquifer’s recharge zone. The property in question was not considered in the zone according to the current map approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), but the BSEACD and others have urged the TCEQ to adopt a new map, and hydrogeologists and planners have said they believe there is recharge on the property. Members of the Buda council argue that the developer had met all of the city’s requirements and that they had to vote on the issue using the existing map. The city has hired veteran Austin attorney Casey Dobson to defend it.

Due to the ongoing series of annexations, Buda’s population and city limits are in constant flux, so much that its politicians would be hard pressed to quote a population figure and few maps show the correct boundaries at any given time.

Another controversy is brewing over KBDJ LP’s proposed rock-crushing plant that could sit next door to an existing Buda subdivision known as Ruby Ranch. The BSEACD has voiced its concern that another big quarry operation will further drain water supplies and the constant truck traffic and heavy machinery involved present a significant danger of polluting the aquifer. Residents of Ruby Ranch and others have organized a group called Buda Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment(Buda NOPE) headed by Dick Schneider, who doubles as president of the Buda Chamber of Commerce. TCEQ has approved KBDJ’s water pollution abatement plan and is considering the company’s air quality plan.

Given the wide array of issues his city has to confront, Mayor Trube is pretty confident. He said he and the council are working hard at trying to keep up with everything that’s going on, and are ready to act when necessary. Trube said it was important to understand, as in the case of requesting more pumpage, “It’s everybody’s needs coming together.”

No Seaholm stop for Cap Metro rail line

Cost potential too great, say most boad members

Capital Metro board members got a look Monday at the revised long-range transit vision for the region as part of the "All Systems Go" initiative. The agency has held dozens of meetings over the past few weeks to take public feedback on a plan to upgrade bus service, as well as begin operating commuter rail from Leander to downtown Austin. The Capital Metro board will likely vote in August to put it on the ballot in November, after which voters will once again decide whether or not to approve it.

Some common themes emerged at the various meetings and workshops. Participants wanted to make sure the line ran through Avery Ranch and Robinson Ranch, both of which are poised for major development. They also urged service to the new Children's Hospital in the Mueller neighborhood, UT's J.J. Pickle Research Center and through downtown to the Seaholm Power Plant.

The existing rail line already runs near the Pickle research campus and passes close to the Mueller neighborhood. If the rail proposal is voted on and approved this fall, Capital Metro could serve those areas with buses using circulator routes. The same circulator service could be extended to connect the end of the rail line near the Austin Convention Center to Seaholm. However, construction of new rail would likely be expensive and time consuming, due in part to requirements of the Federal Transit Administration.

Board members discussed which options they should put before voters in November. "We're only 30 days away from making a decision, and I think a lot of things have to be done before then," said Board Member Fred Harless. "What I think we should be doing is preparing a financial plan based on a route we may select, so we know we can handle this. I suggest that we, for financial pro forma purposes, start at Leander . . . straighten the line (through Robinson Ranch and Avery Ranch) . . . stop at the convention center and price that out. That's so we know what we've got and we know what we can spend. And we should do that as quickly as we can. That is what I think we should be sending to the voters."

Other board members wanted to consider ballot language that would include the possibility of rail lines to the Pickle Campus, Mueller and Seaholm. "I think the momentum is there for a plan that includes rail," said Board Member John Treviño. "I would like for us to include in the plan, besides the basic line, to include the extensions." Although those would not need to be built on the same timetable as the main line, Treviño said, authorization from voters would enable those lines to be built when the agency was financial capable and there was demand for those services. "Obviously with what's happening downtown, Seaholm makes sense. I think the city and certainly the downtown businesses see the tremendous potential that we have in Seaholm. If we're going to have rail service in two or three years, we'll have activity going on at Seaholm." But the potential cost of extending rail tracks through downtown troubled other members of the board.

The board will not actually make a decision on the ballot measure until its August 30 meeting. In the meantime, members directed Capital Metro staff to produce a financial analysis of the different alternatives for the board's review, to be presented at the July 28 board meeting, along with a further review of the draft version of the long-range transit plan. The final version of the plan will likely be presented at the August 16 meeting. In the meantime, authorities with the Federal Transit Authority will also be reviewing the plan and some alternatives to it.

If voters do approve the rail proposal in November, it could mean the 1/4-cent sales tax revenues currently collected by Capital Metro for regional mobility projects would be redirected into rail. Capital Metro is entering into the final year of an interlocal agreement with Austin regarding the distribution of those funds, which totaled approximately $28 million this year. "The board has already indicated some time ago that if we have a successful referendum regarding rail, that quarter cent would be coming back to us to help finance the program," said Treviño.

RECA reports increased cost of government. . . the Real Estate Council of Austin says that while the average household income of Austinites fell nearly 6 percent last year, the cost of services as reflected by taxes increased by a more than 10 percent. RECA President Diana Zuniga said, “We’re seeing the most alarming shift in cost of government exceeding family income in more than a decade . . . The blame for that lies squarely on the State’s ‘Robin Hood’ school finance system that penalizes Austin because AISD is categorized as a ‘property-rich’ district.” According to RECA, AISD is responsible for close to 50 percent of the residential tax burden, and the City of Austin is responsible for about 30 percent. The city cost includes sales tax and utility transfer into the city’s General Fund as well as property tax money. Comparing that to 1998, when the school district took about 43 percent and the city 35 percent, AISD is charging the average tax payer $1,000 more and the city $300 more, RECA reported. Travis County has increased its tax bill for the average household about $217. Capital Metro, which receives a quarter-cent from sales tax is receiving about three dollars less than it did five years ago . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. Their agenda includes election of officers and a discussion of proposed changes to the historic landmark ordinance . . . The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 6pm, also at the DSMBR office on Ed Bluestein Blvd . . . Today is an ozone action day . . . Today is an ozone action day . . . We assume our readers know it is better to put gas in their vehicles after sunset. For a complete list of ozone reduction measures, check out the city website.

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