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Aquifer District joins SOS in opposing Jeremiah Ventures permit

Monday, December 1, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has agreed to join the Save Our Springs Alliance in filing for a contested case hearing concerning the controversial Jeremiah Ventures development.


The proposed development plans 1,377 homes on 607 acres at 6327 FM 967. Developers asked for authorization of 330,000 gallons of treated domestic wastewater per day (120 million gallons a year) via surface irrigation across 122.37 acres. The proposed plot of land is in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer and near the Dahlstrom Ranch, a planned conservation easement noted for its superior recharge features.


State Rep. Patrick Rose, along with several neighborhood and conservation groups, filed comments this summer with TCEQ expressing concerns that wastewater effluent will seep into the aquifer polluting the drinking water and nearby wells. The Executive Director of TCEQ recently issued a Response to Comments, which provided the option for reconsideration of the permit or a contested case.


In the BSEACD staff summary of the comments it says, “We do think that TCEQ has attempted, within their institutional bounds, to improve the likely environmental performance of this prospective facility,” by adding special provisions. The conservation district outlined three areas of concern: soil and root deficiencies; the volume of effluent and disposal area given average rainfall and creek flow; and inadequate monitoring plans for evaluating effectiveness and compliance of the land application.


Currently, Jeremiah Ventures needs only to get their Water Pollution Abatement Plan finalized by the regional offices of TCEQ. The Response to Comments indicated that these filings would be a more appropriate place to bring forth concerns.


Kirk Holland, general manager of the aquifer district, told the board he believes, “TCEQ has not adequately responded to all of our concerns expressed in the comments.” Holland did concede that TCEQ could point to several special conditions in the permit that were added after the comment period closed and say that those concerns have been addressed.


“TCEQ’s emphasis is if things go wrong we have a clear enforcement action that can be laid out and hold them accountable for that, as opposed to avoiding the foreseeable problems in the first place, which is, of course, our concern with respect to protection of the recharge water quality here,” Holland said.


The district board was forced to make a quick decision as today is the last filing date allowed for a contested case and no further board meetings were scheduled.


Holland was not optimistic on the District’s chances in the hearing – especially considering two recent TCEQ rulings the district has perceived as counter to their mission. He told the board, “I think it’s going to be difficult to prevail a contested case hearing. I don’t believe we’ll prevail but we may feel like we have to.” Holland called the large number of special conditions attached to the draft permit, “further evidence that they are contorting the application to conform to (TCEQ) regulations.”


Staff Hydrologist John Dupnik complained that the district’s efforts to assess the geology of the land have been thwarted by a familiar presence. Dupnik said he has been trying to go through attorney Andy Barrett, the attorney for Belterra and the sole speaker against the district’s efforts to band effluent discharge into creeks in the watershed. “Every time we do ([try to get out to the land) this, there’s a difficulty with him coordinating with the owners or the applicant representatives,” Dupnik told the board.

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