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Travis County to overhaul, expand stormwater runoff rules

Thursday, March 17, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County will soon begin the process of creating rules to govern storm water runoff from urban development. When completed, the regulations will apply to the entire county, including regions within municipal extra-territorial jurisdictions.


The effort is part of the county’s federally mandated Storm Water Management Program, which has already been approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Travis officials have until Aug. 11 to complete the process.


According to a memo sent to the Travis County Commissioners Court by Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Steve Manilla, the new rules would offer the county four “specific opportunities.”


Manilla writes that “increasing setback distances in the headwater areas of watersheds will … reduce bacteria loads into Gilliland Creek.” He adds that “revisions  to  construction  (storm water)  standards” would be “aimed towards  consistency with the US  Environmental  Protection Agency … revised rules” and that “adding  illicit  discharge  prohibitions  and  describing  how (Transportation and Natural Resources) operates  its  inspection  and enforcement program” would result “in greater (regulation) enforceability and more transparency.” Further, Manilla suggests that “revisions to the solid waste siting rules would provide more flexibility for recycled waste management.”


The first step in the process will see the new storm water rules vetted by a selection of stakeholders. County officials currently put the number of interested parties at 95. 


Staff’s proposal was met with some concern from Richard MacDonald, one of a number of Hornsby Bend-area residents who opposed the controversial installation of a gravel mine in a neighborhood there. “I’m all for input from every sector of the county,” he told the court. “My interpretation of what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is that, sometimes the rules and the decisions that the county makes … are more for the interest of business and development than they are for citizens that already live there.”


Travis County Natural Resources Environmental Quality Division Director Jon White later told the court that his team would reach out to as many citizens of the county as possible. “We want to make sure that it’s a very inclusive action by us,” he said.


Should the new rules pass, their application to areas of regional extra-territorial jurisdictions would represent something of an expansion in county authority. Current regulations apply only to the unincorporated regions of the county and to areas within the Lake Travis watershed.


The effort would manifest as restructured sections of the county’s existing code. According to the county’s Web site, they would cover regulations stretching from “technical standards for controls of storm water runoff from construction sites” to a reworking of the county’s tree protection policy.


Travis commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the overhaul. Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber was absent.

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