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Citizens sound off on wastewater plan in Dripping Springs

Friday, November 11, 2016 by Cate Malek

Over 200 people packed the event center in Dripping Springs on Nov. 10 for what they said was their first real chance to get their questions answered about a proposal that would allow the city to discharge treated effluent into Onion Creek.

As part of the Dripping Springs’ expansion of its wastewater treatment plant, it has applied for a permit to release up to 995,000 gallons of treated effluent per day into a tributary of Onion Creek. At last night’s meeting, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality invited the public to comment on the plan before deciding whether to approve the permit.

The meeting attracted dozens of Dripping Springs residents who said they have been arguing against the discharge permit for years. They said that although the effluent will be treated, it could still contain traces of pharmaceuticals as well as nutrients that could lead to toxic algae blooms that could affect the health of streams and aquifers and contaminate drinking water in their wells. The city of Austin has made continued efforts to persuade Dripping Springs to abandon the plan because of concerns the effluent could reach Barton Springs.

Dripping Springs points to the need for the expanded wastewater plant to accommodate its rapid growth. Hays County has expanded by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to the city’s website. The city has said that it has no plans to actually use the discharge permit to release water into Onion Creek. Instead, it plans to reuse the water for irrigation. But members of its City Council say they need the permit to meet state regulatory standards.

Citizens at the meeting weren’t satisfied with those answers. They expressed frustration with a process in which they felt they’d had little voice and distrust for both the city and the TCEQ.

“We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over, and then we’re going to fight on the ice,” said Steve Beers, co-president of the Save Barton Creek Association.

Despite the high emotion at the meeting, representatives from the TCEQ said they appreciated the feedback and that the meeting was part of the process.

“It was an educated crowd and they had good questions,” said David Galindo, director of the Water Quality Division for the TCEQ.

This story has been updated since publication to clarify that the permit would allow the release of up to 995,000 gallons of treated effluent per day.

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