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Last month’s decision to go ahead with plans to build Water Treatment Plant #4 on an alternative site near Lake Travis instead of replacing the Green Water Treatment Plant will—according to Austin Water Utility officials—put Austin in a position of having its water needs under control for the next 30 years or so.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 by

Combined with a program of aggressive conservation measures, the new treatment plant will assure the city of a reliable supply of surface water through the year 2040. That is, if the city’s sole source of water, the Highland Lakes of the Colorado River, remains viable.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, which manages the water supply, maintains that the river basin contains more than enough water to meet the city’s needs for several decades. That does, however, leave the city in the position of having only one source of water for the foreseeable future, and some believe that leaves the city vulnerable.

Behind the scenes during the recent debate over building a new water treatment plant has been a push by an Austin-based group, Sustainable Water Resources LLC, (SWR) to sell city officials on the notion of tapping into a second source of water, the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer east of the city.

SWR is headed by influential Austin attorney Pete Winstead, and former LCRA executive Lynn Sherman, who have teamed up with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to deliver water up and down the State Highway 130 corridor, where explosive development is expected over the next few decades.

Austin is by far the biggest target along SH 130.

"The LCRA says they have enough water to take care of the city’s needs for a long time, but how much sense does it make for city that size to have only one source?" said Sherman. "The state, as a policy, strongly encourages ‘conjunctive use’ or the use of multiple sources of water by municipalities. They are specific in advising the use of both ground water and surface water as alternate supplies."

SWR has approached the city with a plan to build a four- to 50-mile long pipeline from the aquifer source in Lee County near Giddings to a distribution point on the east side of Austin, and deliver an amount of water similar to the 25 million gallons per day envisioned from the ill-fated Green Water Treatment replacement plant.

But while city officials have not ruled out hooking into the SWR-backed project, they say they are looking at it as a long-term solution, and have no plans for using it in the short term.

In a June 8 presentation to City Council, AWU Assistant Director for Treatment Jane Burazer said there are a number of issues regarding the addition of water from another source to the current system. Among those concerns is a lack of control over construction of a pipeline bringing water to the city, as well as not owning the finished asset, and major concerns over "blending" the water from the two supplies.

"We have a lime softening system, and that forms a particular type of scale on the inside of the pipes," she said. "Introducing water from a different system can cause that scale to break off, clog water meters, and foul the taste and look of our water. They (SWR) say they will treat the Ph in the water they ship to us, but until we can do extensive testing, we won’t know how the two systems will mix."

She said several of Austin’s major industrial customers are semiconductor plants, which have large investments of infrastructure to further purify the water received from the city.

"We are very concerned that they may have to invest more money to adjust those facilities if there major changes in the composition of the water we deliver," she said.

She added that expectations of the citizens of Austin have changed over the years.

"People used to be more accepting of a ‘mistake’ or a problem with the water supply," she said. "But in recent years, we have set such a high standard – and rightfully so – that they expect a high quality product. And we have to be able to deliver that product."

SWR’s Sherman downplays the issue of blending, saying that it’s a fairly easy problem to overcome.

"We can control the Ph and other chemicals in the water that we deliver, and matching up water already in the system has not proved to be a big problem," he said. "We think it makes more sense for the City of Austin to bring water in from the east side of town to serve the SH 130 corridor than to pump it all the way from Lake Austin or Lake Travis out to the area. It’s an obvious choice."

A planner for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District says several of its large customers are conjunctive users, drawing both groundwater from the aquifer and surface water from other sources.

"We have not seen any major problems with these systems," said BSEACD’s John Dupnik. "We have strongly encouraged conjunctive use, particularly by municipalities such as Buda and Kyle, and they aren’t having any problems we know of with blending."

But Burazer points to a problem encountered by the City of Tucson several years ago, which began adding well water to its surface-water system with disastrous results.

"It was an older system and there were some iron pipes in the ground," she said. "The water came in at a different temperature and had different chemical properties which stripped the scale off the inside of the pipes and began dissolving the rust. The result was ‘red’ water, which tasted awful, stained people’s laundry, and was generally a disaster."

She said that Austin is certainly considering the water from Carrizo-Wilcox in its long-range plans, but has determined that is can’t be used in the short term.

"We’re not totally against it," she said. "But we just don’t see it as a replacement for building a water treatment plant that will take care of our needs in the near future."

ZAP postpones vote on industrial park variance

The Zoning and Platting Commission came close to a vote, but the absence of Chair Betty Baker at last night’s meeting put the kibosh on plans for an environmental variance for a fifth building at an industrial park in Northwest Austin.

Agent Jim Bennett did his best to make a strong case for the environmental variance – additional impervious cover – at an industrial park at 9414 Anderson Mill Rd. Bennett argued that the additional impervious cover was needed to provide extra parking spots for the existing four – and soon-to-be constructed – building on the site, and that the owner would have met impervious cover requirements if right-of-way had not been taken to expand Anderson Mill Road from two to four lanes.

The city was not sold on the argument. Environmental reviewer Betty Lambright said other businesses had met impervious cover requirements in the Lake Creek watershed, and this business should, too. The Environmental Board came to no firm vote on the case and split 4-4, leaving ZAP with no recommendation on the variance.

The city said Bennett’s client only needed 27 parking spots on the property. Bennett argued that the client needed 38 spots to handle existing parking needs. Lambright said it was the city’s recommendation to cut an additional seven parking spots.

The commission could never pin Bennett down on how long ago the right-of-way was taken on the property, a question posed by Commissioner Melissa Hawthorne. The final tally on the impervious cover on the site that Bennett proposed was 68.3 percent on a piece of property limited to 65 percent. The land, already constrained by development, would not allow additional water quality elements, but Bennett argued that the property was not home to any critical environmental features, not in a flood plain, in the desired development zone and dealt with an existing parking problem on the site.

The alternative – a two-story industrial building with a 1,200-square-foot footprint, instead of a 2,400-square-foot building – was not economically viable, Bennett said.

Keith Jackson, who was filling in as chair last night, offered a motion to split the difference with Bennett, giving 13,540 square-feet of space and a total impervious cover of 66.5 percent on the site That proposal, however, only garnered four votes on the commission, with Commissioners Janis Pinnelli and Stephanie Hale voting against the motion. Hawthorne was a reluctant "yes." Because Bennett needed five out of six votes for passage, Pinnelli offered a motion to deny the variance. That failed, 2-4.

Finally, the board agreed to postpone the case until August. At that time, Baker should be well enough to return to cast the deciding vote.

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

Redistricting fest today . . . Of course it’s really a special City Council meeting, but it could be so interesting. The Council will talk, first in closed session and then, hopefully vote on a response to the seven plans for Congressional redistricting already offered to the US District Court in the Eastern District of Texas. More than one Council Member can be expected to opine on the evils of the Republican-backed plan put forward by Attorney General Greg Abbott. ( In Fact Daily, July 18, 2006.) No matter what map is chosen, a number of Austinites are likely going to have to vote on a member of Congress in November in what is known as an "open primary." In districts where there is no winner, there will be a runoff in December. Democratic political consultant Alfred Stanley says, "The Perry, Dewhurst, Craddick plan is the most disruptive: Sixty-five percent of Austinites would find themselves in new districts." Incidentally, it is not the State of Texas’ plan because if that were the case, the state would have been required to seek pre-clearance by the Department of Justice . . . Celebration tonight . . . The twice-monthly Downtown Planet is hosting a party celebrating two years in business from 5:30-9pm tonight at the Volitant Gallery, 320 Congress Ave. Guests are asked to donate a non-perishable food item or $5 for the Capitol Area Food Bank . . . Meetings . . . Special Called Meeting of City Council, 2:30pm at Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Affordable housing question . . . County Commissioners have agreed to delay any decisions on public-private partnerships on affordable housing properties, contingent on an Attorney General’s decision on whether property taxes can be waived on such properties. Harvey Davis said the county had been approached with a dozen or so such offers and moved on none of them. An AG decision, at the request of Rep. Robert Talton, is due in the next six weeks or so . . . Baker has surgery . . . Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker missed last night’s meeting, but had a good excuse. She had undergone surgery earlier in the day. Acting Chair Keith Jackson opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the commission and audience "to think about Chair Baker and all she’s done for the city…to share your thoughts with her and good wishes." Jackson reported the surgery was successful and that Baker was recuperating quietly . . . GOP conservation club . . . We doubt they caught the bug watching Al Gore’s film but Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national grassroots organization, has announced the formation of a Texas state chapter. Pamela Ragon, a Dallas investment banker, has been elected president of the Texas chapter. "I am very excited to lead REP's mission to green up the Republican Party here in Texas," Ragon said. "As our country's second largest state, our actions can have a huge impact on the quality of the environment, both in Texas and in surrounding states." REP was founded in 1995 to restore the Republican Party's conservation tradition. REP has members in 49 states and Washington DC. For more information, visit http://www.rep.org.

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