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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Regional leaders work on wastewater issues
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell on Monday convened what Adler called “a pretty unique regional meeting of leaders to address the common challenge of growth and water and wastewater issues – potentially in a way that the whole region can get behind.”
He told the Austin Monitor, “It was exciting to have government and utility and the Barton Springs aquifer district and the other entities all sitting around a table talking about beneficial water reuse.”
This meeting, Adler said, “was about trying to create new tools that could be used by fast growing cities and entities in the region other than the tools presently on the books, including discharge permits.”
The meeting, which was held at the Sonesta Inn at Bee Cave, drew about 50 regional leaders, including mayors, county commissioners, representatives of legislative offices, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and staff from the Governor’s Office as well as from the Lower Colorado River Authority. In addition, there were numerous engineers and more than 20 representatives of wastewater permittees, according to those who attended.
Much of the hard work will now fall on engineers and lawyers, many of whom have volunteered to work on the wastewater issue.
If they are successful in their efforts, the result would be a major change in the way that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permits various entities to deal with certain types of wastewater discharge. Cities and water districts would also be able to save a considerable amount of water that is being used for irrigation, toilet flushing and other uses not requiring potable water. In addition to the water savings, utilities and cities would not be required to buy as much land or, perhaps, build as much infrastructure. However, there would be other types of infrastructure to build.
Austin has been on the verge of a battle with Dripping Springs over the smaller city’s plans to discharge nearly 200,000 gallons per day of treated wastewater into Onion Creek by 2023, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 23, 2014.
But if this plan works, Dripping Springs and Austin would work cooperatively to see that the TCEQ approves the rule changes necessary for that to happen.
Then there would be no need for that discharge permit.
Update: Ginger Faught, deputy city administrator for Dripping Springs, said she wanted to clarify the city’s position on Tuesday. She told the Monitor, “We will be applying for a discharge permit within the next 60 days. We are participating in the group and we do think that change does make sense.” Faught added, “It’s not our intention to put wastewater in the creek. But there would be times during heavy saturation that and we could put it in the creek. She added that Dripping Springs is “actively pursuing water re-use customers.”
Chris Herrington, an engineer with the city’s Watershed Protection Department, said, “It’s an idea that we’ve been talking about or observing in other entities in different forms, and so we see it as an opportunity to find a way other than contested case hearings over individual permits to more sustainably manage wastewater in sensitive areas in the Barton Springs zone or around Lake Travis. It also has the added benefit of enhancing our water supply.
“I think there was a good consensus (at Monday’s meeting) that this was a good idea in concept,” Herrington said. ” … So now we have to get together with the legal and engineering community to work out all of the details so that we can take it to the state, because I think they’re going to have a very different (point of view). It’s such a shift in paradigms for them. … It will take a lot of convincing.
“We’re focusing on kind of organizing and bringing in the other stakeholders. Lots of people are volunteering to help,” Herrington continued. “A lot of people are recognizing … this would … encourage beneficial reuse and improve environmental protection.”
Daryl Slusher, Austin Water utility assistant director for conservation, also attended Monday’s meeting. If the rule change were enacted, he said, it would help with environmental protection in the Barton Springs zone and also in the Highland Lakes area, which would not have to buy as much land for irrigation and not take as much water out of the Highland Lakes.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin Water Utility: AWU is the municipal utility that provides water service for the City of Austin.
Barton Springs Contributing Zone: The contributing zone of Barton Springs is the drainage or "catchment" area of the Edwards Aquifer that filters water to the recharge zone. It comprises about 5,400 square miles.
Dripping Springs: The municipality centered on US290-West in Hays County.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: environmental regulating authority for the State of Texas.
Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.