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Watershed department says Jollyville main passes test

Monday, June 20, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Austin Water Utility’s controversial Jollyville Transmission main for Water Treatment Plant 4 has passed an initial environmental screening. In testimony before the City of Austin’s Environmental Board, Watershed Protection Department Environmental Policy Program Manager Chuck Lesniak said the companies behind the construction of the line have “met the (environmental) goals” set out for them.


But as board Chair Mary Gay Maxwell said, “We’re not finished with it.”


The $100 million Jollyville line is the artery that will connect the city’s fourth water treatment plant with its water system. It will run from that facility, under portions of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve for roughly 7 miles until it reaches the Jollyville reservoir at 183 and McNeil Drive.


David Johns from the city’s watershed protection department offered the board a look at the geology along the tunnel route, and the groundwater that runs through the region. He also mapped out a host of sites where the Jollyville Plateau Salamander has been found. Though it hasn’t been officially put on the endangered species list, it is a candidate for such protection.


Johns also detailed a dye study that the department used to map water flow in the region. “We were surprised by the amount of water that seems to have crossed the formation boundaries,” he said.


This, added Johns, indicated that water was traveling out of the Edwards formation, into rock below it. Still, Johns noted that his team had not yet observed a fracture that allows water to travel all the way through the three formations that will sit above the Jollyville tunnel.


Ray Brainard, an executive engineer with engineering contractor Black & Veatch described how the tunnel would be constructed. He assured the board that the firm expects little in the way of interaction with either of the major sources of groundwater in the area.


Austin’s environmental community has devoted much attention to the project. To Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch the line is both overpriced and environmentally dangerous.


Neighborhood activists from the Spicewood Springs area have also opposed the effort on the grounds that the construction of one of its four shafts will be detrimental to their community. Bunch was the only anti-Jollyville representative to speak publicly before the board last week.


In his remarks, Bunch pointed board members to a groundwater assessment done as part of the environmental studies for the project. “Time and again there’s this repeated contradiction,” he said of the document. “One sentence saying ‘we’re in karst terrain that is notoriously unpredictable; we don’t know what we’re going to hit.’ And then the next sentence or paragraph saying ‘but we’re going to be really careful and everything’s going to be okay.’”


Bunch also added his concern for the many springs in the region that connect to Bull Creek. “They don’t tell you about how much water we’re going to lose in the construction of the shafts,” he said. “We’re going to dewater that aquifer.”


Representatives from the Black & Veatch declined comment on Bunch’s statement.

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