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Dripping Springs plans to discharge wastewater in Onion Creek

Thursday, January 23, 2014 by Michael Kanin

A plan by Dripping Springs officials to apply for a discharge permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that could send treated wastewater into Onion Creek is meeting with some concern from at least two Austin-regional entities.


Dripping Springs Deputy City Administrator Ginger Faught told the Austin Monitor that the city is at least six months away from filing formal documents for a wastewater discharge permit. Still, both Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District General Manager John Dupnik and Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch expressed some level of concern about the project.


Dupnik noted that his district and Dripping Springs have yet to discuss the matter. “We don’t really know much now,” he said, adding later that the district is “cautiously optimistic that there is room to negotiate other options.”


Bunch was more aggressive. “We’re very much concerned about it,” he said, noting that the organization would challenge any application from Dripping Springs for a discharge permit. “We are categorically opposed to discharge,” he said. 


For her part, Faught suggested that much – if not all – of the material that could be eligible for what’s known as Chapter 210 reuse, a section of TCEQ regulations that allows reapplication of treated wastewater in some circumstances, would not be discharged. She characterized the permit application as a worst-case option.


“You have to go for a discharge permit,” Faught said.


Later Faught noted that she believes that the city will have “plenty of (Chapter) 210 customers.”


The city’s application stems from substantial regional growth. Faught said the city expects 6,000 new lots within city limits. She added that the projection is driving city officials to move proactively, and not reactively, with their wastewater expansion plans.


“Water is a critical issue, people are getting creative in looking at wastewater,” Faught said. “That is something that the city is investigating. We are looking at the possibility of treating this to drinking level and then putting it back into a water system. The council is pretty committed to at least going through the process to see if it’s feasible.” 


She noted that the city had explored its options, and that this approach would work best. City spokesman Jed Buie noted that the wastewater project would ultimately create a centralized system, something that would be operated by a third party hired by the city. Buie noted that individual developers might simply build their own treatment systems to accommodate growth.


Faught pointed to a wastewater solution employed by the Belterra project. Both the City of Austin and the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer district challenged the award of a discharge permit in that case, one that would have allowed for the discharge of up to 800,000 gallons of treated effluent into Bear Creek. The TCEQ ruled for Belterra, but the sides eventually settled on an agreement that offered adjustments in favor of the Austin argument.


Dupnik was careful in his assessment of the potential Dripping Springs application. He noted that it is the “cumulative impacts of multiple discharges that ultimately would be the…concern.”


He added that “we all learned a lot from Belterra,” later noting that the standard set by that agreement “may suffice for one discharge, but multiple discharges would quickly” tax the ability of the creeks to absorb the discharges.


Again, Bunch was more direct. He pointed to the rise in nitrogen levels at Barton Springs and implied that the addition of another discharge permit would not help matters.

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