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Travis County Commissioners continue to develop water use regulations

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Travis County Commissioners continued to move forward in implementing water regulations Tuesday, holding a public hearing on proposed county storm water rules.


The hearing was one part of a larger overhaul. Last Tuesday, the court unanimously approved a set of permanent water use regulations for future developments platted in the unincorporated regions of the jurisdiction. However, geographic and comprehensive gaps remain. Regulations surrounding storm water treatment are one of these gaps.


The county has been operating under interim rules that were implemented in 2005.


“We advanced the ball since 2005. I think that led to the establishment of a larger storm water management program, and with the authority under those regulations we were able to put in place things like environmental setbacks… It’s been a positive impact,” said Tom Weber, Natural Resources and Environmental Quality Program Manager.


Proposed rules would apply to all of Travis County, including municipal extraterritorial jurisdictions, or ETJs, except for subdivision development proposals in the City of Austin’s ETJ, which are already regulated by the city. This is an expansion of the existing interim rules, which do not apply in any ETJ.


The proposed rules are also more stringent than those currently in place. They include: new requirements for the control of mining and quarrying, cut and fill requirements, setbacks from waterways in watersheds, storm water construction site inspection requirements, sustainable roadway standards, a requirement hazardous material spill notice when it threatens a water supply or county road, and requirements for erosion and sediment control and water quality ponds for road projects, drainage easement projects, and utility construction.


A fee schedule for new inspections and permitting will be proposed upon adoption of the plan.


County staff anticipates that the final proposal will come back to Commissioners in mid- to late-March. A Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems permit held by the county stipulates that the requirements be in place by Aug. 12. The county hopes to achieve a lot before that date though, including a potential revision of Chapter 82 of the Travis County Code (Standards for Construction of Streets and Drainage in Subdivisions.)


“I think around the country, you’ll find regulations that could be more stringent. There are some things we didn’t address, because we were mindful of the fact that this was kind of a step in our progress on this program relating trying to bring it up more to the common bar of our local area,” said Weber.


“There are a lot of things that the City of Austin has in process,” said Weber. “We’re not lockstep. There are a lot of things the county wouldn’t require… one of them being impervious cover limitations. We sort of felt that would take something more akin to a more involved stakeholder process.”


Not everyone involved is pleased with the proposed changes.


Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association sent a letter to the county, asserting that several of the regulations extend beyond the county’s authority by regulating more than storm water management and by overlapping existing requirements from other authorities. The letter claims that some of the proposed requirements add unnecessary cost and “generally appear to go well beyond a reasonable scope of what is required to ensure storm water quality.”


Others think that the proposed rules don’t go quite far enough.


Michael Barrett, a professor of Civil Engineering at UT, reviewed the proposed on behalf of the Save Barton Creek Association.


In a letter, Barrett recommended the county implement a numeric standard for discharge quality on construction sites. He noted that it was very difficult to enforce a standard that asks construction sites to “minimize off-site discharge of sediment and other pollutants” in the absence of a numeric standard. Barrett also recommended that sampling requirements also be implemented in order to determine whether these standards had been met.


Jon Beall, also of the Save Barton Creek Association, thanked the court for moving forward with the new regulations, saying, “We encourage you to move rapidly and forcefully in adopting the strongest possible rules.”

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