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Howard files bill to protect Barton Springs

Monday, March 13, 2017 by Jo Clifton

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed legislation to prevent the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from issuing new permits to authorize discharge of sewage effluent into any creek or other body of water in the contributing or recharge zone of the Barton Springs or San Antonio segments of the Edwards Aquifer.

Dripping Springs has requested a permit to discharge 995,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater into Onion Creek, a major source of water into Barton Springs. The small city has told Austin that it plans for beneficial reuse of the wastewater, with the goal of eliminating the discharge on most days.

Howard told the Austin Monitor via email, “It’s no secret to anyone in Central Texas that people here are passionate about water – both its quality and quantity. This is the environmental issue I have heard most about from my constituents and believe that filing this bill best represents them, our local watersheds, and our beloved Barton Springs. There is heightened tension this legislative session between local and state liberties, and this bill will no doubt be a part of that larger debate.”

Howard’s bill, House Bill 3467, is in direct opposition to legislation filed by state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs). Isaac’s legislation would stop Austin and other cities from opposing discharge permits at the TCEQ.

Environmentalists have worried that a proposed sewage discharge permit for Dripping Springs would ultimately pollute Barton Springs. The city of Austin and various Hays County property owners have requested a contested case hearing at the TCEQ, although Austin has been working with Dripping Springs to reach an agreement.

David Foster, Texas director of Clean Water Action, is one of those adamantly opposed to the discharge. He said, “We appreciate Rep. Howard’s filing this bill. A big portion of the recharge zone is in her district, including Barton Springs, … which gets over 40 percent of its recharge from Onion Creek, so this amount of (wastewater) discharge is a threat to the health of the aquifer, including Barton Springs.”

In addition to preventing issuance of new discharge permits, Howard’s legislation would prevent the TCEQ from amending any permit that was issued before Sept. 1, 2017, to authorize an increase in the amount of sewage effluent that may be discharged into any water in the contributing or recharge zone of the San Antonio or Barton Springs segments of the Edwards Aquifer.

State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) has filed identical legislation in the Senate, SB 1796.

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