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Most parties sign off on Belterra wastewater settlement

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 by Mark Richardson

A settlement is near completion between the Hays County Water Control and Improvement District No.1 and a number of local entities over a developer’s plan to dump effluent into Bear Creek and the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer.  Six of the eight protestants to an amended wastewater discharge permit – including the Barton Spring Edwards Aquifer Conservation District last night —  have approved the settlement which will avoid a contested case hearing before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.


The case goes back to a December 13, 2005 application by the water corporation that serves the Belterra subdivision in western Hays County for a permit to dump up to 800,000 gallons of effluent a day into Bear Creek. The BSEACD and other groups objected because in addition to polluting Bear Creek, the discharge would flow into in the recharge zone of the aquifer.


Settlement discussions have been going on for several months, and a final agreement was reached last week. Parties in addition to the BSEACD include the City of Austin, Lower Colorado River Authority, Hays County, City of Dripping Springs, Hays-Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Davis Family Properties, Ltd. Only Hays County and the Hays Trinity GCD have yet to approve the settlement, but those approvals are  expected in the next week.


BSEACD Board members would clearly have preferred to have Belterra blocked from any discharge, but said they were generally happy with the terms of the agreement.


“We believe that this agreement is based on good science and good public policy,” said Kirk Holland, general manager of the BSEACD and one of the main architects of the settlement. “The settlement is probably the best thing we can do to protect the aquifer. It’s much better than what we were likely to get in a contested case hearing.”

Board Secretary Craig Smith said he still had some concerns over the agreement.


“The settlement we are considering would permit, under some circumstances, direct discharge of effluent into the creek by Belterra,” he said. “Even with all the precautions and guarantees, it’s a tough thing to accept. While we can’t have everything be ideal in this kind of negotiation, it is a realistic alternative. It’s better than what we had under the draft permit, and it is probably better than the outcome of any hearing.”


The settlement amends the terms to the TCEQ permit to state that Belterra will dispose of 150,000 gallons of effluent per day through a drip irrigation system, and will build and maintain a lined effluent storage pond with at least 5.25 million gallons of capacity. Belterra can only dump treated discharge in the creek if its drip irrigation system is saturated, the storage facility is full, and the water flow in Bear Creek is as least 14 cubic feet per second.


It also installs a monitoring system to make sure that Belterra is living up to the agreement. Several enforcement provisions are also written into the agreement.


Jack Goodman, the longest serving member of the BSEACD Board, wrestled with his decision to support the settlement.


“This is really difficult for me,” he said. “I’ve been involved in these ‘wars’ since the 80s, and one thing I have learned is that there is no technical fix for these things that has ever worked. The resource we are protecting is so finite, and we are risking a lot.”


Despite his misgivings, Goodman voted along with the other BSEACD Board members to approve the settlement on a 5-0 vote.


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.

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