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Effluent request rattles aquifer district

Tuesday, February 28, 2006 by

Belterra would dump 800,000 gallons/day into Bear Creek

The water corporation that serves the Belterra subdivision in Northern Hays County is making an unprecedented request to dump some 800,000 gallons of effluent a day into Bear Creek. Hays County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 1 is requesting that the state amend its wastewater discharge permit, which currently allows 100,000 gallons of effluent a day.

That request has elicited a strong protest from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and other groups in the area, who note that water from Bear Creek flows into the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. That, according to BSEACD Board Member Craig Smith, would eventually dump most of the effluent into the aquifer.

“ Raymond Slade, a retired USGS geologist, told us that this would make the flow in Bear Creek more than 50 percent wastewater more than 50 percent of the time,” Smith said. “That would make it an effluent-dominated stream that would recharge the aquifer as soon at it reached (FM) 1826. We regard this as very alarming—even audacious—that they would think that they could get away with this.”

The Belterra subdivision is located south of US 290 West between Sawyer Ranch Road and Nutty Brown Road. Bear Creek flows south out the subdivision where it runs into the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone near FM 1826. The creek eventually flows into Onion Creek in Southern Travis County.

“In view of the direct impact on groundwater and people’s drinking water–because there are wells on Bear Creek just downstream of this development in both the Trinity Aquifer and the Edwards Aquifer as you hit the recharge zone—the district voted to take a position opposed to this application,” Smith said, adding that the board also authorized district staff to develop data to demonstrate the effect of the permit on the aquifer. “This is not just storm water runoff, this is black water.”

A review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) web site shows a “major amendment application” was filed on December 13 by the Hays WCID, and an administrative review of the application was completed January 19.

Andy Barrett, director Hays WCID No. 1, told In Fact Daily “Yes, we filed for the permit modification. We do not believe that this will affect the Edwards Aquifer. We plan to treat and reuse most of the effluent for watering in the Belterra area. “

In a letter authorized by the board, BSEACD General Manager Kirk Holland protested the permit and is requesting that TCEQ hold a public hearing before it make a final determination on its merits.

Smith said there are much better ways to handle the wastewater.

“We met with an engineer who suggested that there are many opportunities for re-use of this water in a more beneficial way,” he said. “To be frank, this subdivision was built in an area with thin soils and poor opportunities to deal with the wastewater that is generated by the houses there. There are better ways to deal with the wastewater than to dump it in the creek, and then in the aquifer, where people will drink it.”

Smith said this would be the first application permit to discharge wastewater into an immediate recharge zone over the Edwards Aquifer. He said the application does not meet the state’s wastewater regulations, and the district wants to make sure that TCEQ enforces those regulations.

Barrett said, “I wish they (BSEACD) would have talked with us first … we have no intention of polluting the aquifer. We plan to treat the wastewater.”

District Attorney eyes SOS petitions

Sources: Prosecutors study possible irregularities in charter amendment signatures

According to City Hall sources, District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s office is looking into allegations of irregularities in the signatures submitted to the City of Austin to place Charter Amendments on the May 13 ballot. However, the sources said there is no reason to believe that the irregularities were so widespread as to invalidate certification of the first amendment, called the SOS Amendment. The City Council is set to consider on Thursday whether to place that amendment on the ballot along with others sponsored by the Council.

City Clerk Shirley Gentry certified late last week that there were enough signatures to place that item before voters. Gentry declined to comment on reports of possible forgeries amongst the more than 20,000 signatures collected by the Save Our Springs Alliance to get the SOS Amendment and the Clean Government Amendment on the ballot. Others, however, confirmed that prosecutors are looking into the signatures.

Political consultant Glenn Maxey, who oversaw the petition gathering, said he had not been contacted by the District Attorney’s Office. But he said Gentry had told him about potential forgeries on the part of one person who gathered signatures.

Maxey explained that his company trained more than 250 people how to gather signatures for the petition and ultimately about 100 of those turned in signatures. He said they discarded the petitions of one person whose petitions carried overly-similar signatures. He stressed the high level of scrutiny the petitions received when they were turned in to make sure there were no duplicates and to ensure that the clerk’s office received only the signatures of registered voters.

The clerk’s office is currently working to validate signatures on the second petition. Gentry said Monday that several of her staff were out sick, but that those on duty were continuing to plow through the signatures to determine whether the Open Government amendment would also be on the May ballot. City officials have determined that only 18,908—5 percent of the city’s registered voters—are required to force a charter amendment election.

Although Gentry declined to discuss the alleged forgeries, the process used by SOS to generate signed petitions has raised some concerns. In some instances, the group printed out voter registration lists for different streets. The list contained the name, address, birth date and voter registration number of each voter. The petitioner was only required to obtain the signatures. Maxey said both the city and the Texas Secretary of State assured him that there would be no legal problem with such a method.

Gentry said the method coupled with the fact that the petitioners were paid for each signature were troubling. In addition, she said the City Attorney’s office had told her that the affidavits—sworn statements from petitioners that the signatures they collected were really done by those whose names appeared—are not required by law. If true, that in itself seems to render the whole process whimsical, if not meaningless.

Maxey said after three petition drives he has found “this petitioning (process) is very loose, very fraught with opportunities for people to do untoward things.” He pointed to the bickering between the Secretary of State’s office and the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn as a sign of the kinds of problems petitioners face.

Harvey Kronberg’s Quorum Report reported yesterday that Strayhorn would seek relief from the courts to force the Secretary of State to count the independent candidate’s signatures by sampling rather than by checking each individual signature. Strayhorn also wants assurance before she starts gathering signatures for her independent run for Governor that she is using a format the Secretary of State will ultimately approve.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Candidate forum tonight . . . Five Neighborhood Planning Teams and Iglesia Metodista Unida Emmanuel will co-sponsor an Eastside City Council Candidates' Forum from 6:30 to 9pm tonight at Iglesia Metodista, 200 Brushy Street, at the corner of East Second and I-35. The event is educational and the groups will not be making endorsements at this event. However, some individual planning teams might make endorsements at a later date. Candidates running for Place 2, Place 5 and Place 6 Council seats, as well as those in the Mayor’s race, have been invited. Organizers expect at least 120 people to attend . . . City Hall Art . . . Hank Waddell’s West Texas Beach Ball sculpture won the popular vote among the 79 pieces in the People’s Choice winner for the first annual City Hall art exhibition vote. The contest was sponsored by the Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office’s Cultural Arts Division. Visitors and employees in City Hall cast votes for their favorite piece during the month of January. The winning piece will be purchased from the artist to become the first work in the City Hall permanent collection. The public is invited to preview the new 2006 exhibition and meet the artists at the opening reception at 5:30pm Friday in the atrium of City Hall. More than 100 local artists will be featured in the 2006 exhibition, including Waddell and 20 others that were in last year’s exhibition. Many of the pieces are already on location if you want to see them before Friday . . . Historic Landmark Commission … The Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) agreed to drop an opposed historic landmark case on 1613 Garden St. last night. The family of the late Arturo Munoz intended to demolish the East Austin home and sell the lot. New owners, however, have dropped plans to tear down the house, which meant the commission could drop the historic zoning case . . . The HLC will hold a special-called meeting on March 13, because of a notification problem on a number of cases. Those cases include a certificate of appropriateness on a demolition permit for the Austin Athletic Club, 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd. The board will meet in the Boards and Commissions Room at 7pm. . . . The HLC has dropped plans to explore historic landmark designation on 2006 Elton Lane, built in 1941. Demolition has already begun on the house. Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky could not recommend historic zoning, given the architecture and occupants of the house. Commissioners had some concern last month that the owner might be significant to the history of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. The owner, however, was only one of a number of conductors. It will be replaced with a 3,300-square-foot home, allowable under the McMansion moratorium. Commissioner Jean Mather was alone in voting against dismissing the historic zoning case . . . Meetings . . . The Council MBE/WBE Subcommittee meets at 4pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Council Audit and Finance Committee meets at 10:30am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Parks and Recreation Board – Navigation Committee meets at 5:30pm in room 1027 at City Hall . . . Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the Pct 3 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Early voting . . . Through a full week of early voting, only slightly more than 1 percent of Travis County’s 545,797 registered voters have cast ballots. As of Monday, 6,283 votes had been cast, 3,334 Democrats and 2,949 Republicans. By comparison, in the 2002 primary elections, just over 4 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary. With four days left in early voting, it looks unlikely that a similar percentage of voters will cast ballots. Could a couple of independent challenges in the Governor’s race be keeping voters away from the party primary ballots this year? . . . A look at the past . . . Williamson County officials have invited the media and others to view the opening of two time capsules recently discovered during the restoration of the 26th District Courtroom at the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown. The time capsules date back to 1955 and 1963. The opening will be at 3pm Wednesday in the Browning construction trailer adjacent to the courthouse . . . Getting it straight . . . In a story in yesterday’s In Fact Daily, we incorrectly listed the Zoning and Platting Commission’s votes on a controversial variance requested for duplex project at 2211 Thornton St. in South Austin. Commissioners voting against the variance were Clark Hammond, Stephanie Hale, Joseph Martinez and Melissa Hawthorne, and those voting for were Chair Betty Baker, Keith Jackson, Janice Pinnelli and Jay Gohil. Commissioner Theresa Rebago was absent at the time of the vote, causing a 4-4 tie. A new vote will be taken at the next ZAP meeting.

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