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Wednesday, November 29, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Two districts now oppose sewage permit

The board of directors of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District voted Monday night to protest Dripping Springs’ draft permit to discharge 995,000 gallons of wastewater per day into a tributary of Onion Creek. The vote means that the district will request that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hold a contested case hearing and designate the district as an affected party.

The Hays Trinity directors had previously been split on the question of whether to contest the permit. But on Monday, after hearing from about 40 citizens, directors voted unanimously to join the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Hays County group Protect Our Water and the city of Austin in seeking party status to officially oppose the permit.

Hays Trinity board President Linda Kaye Rogers told the Austin Monitor that before Monday, “We weren’t thinking clearly and we kind of took a defeatist attitude of thinking we didn’t have enough evidence to stay in the loop, (but) the protest will give us time.”

She explained that the district is doing a dye trace study, which will help board members decide what steps to take next. “We don’t know how far we will go. It will depend on how our dye trace study comes back and several other factors, but we need to have a place at the table and this guarantees us that.”

Craig Smith, a member of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer board of directors, said his board also voted unanimously to oppose the permit. Smith is concerned about possible pollution of Onion Creek, the aquifer and Barton Springs, as well as negative impacts on the endangered Barton Springs salamander.

“What we are hoping for, those of us who oppose the permit, is that there will be another round of negotiations.” Smith said. “We’re hoping for a political solution to the problem.”

At some point in the past, Rogers explained, a dye trace study showed that dye placed in the Trinity ended up in Barton Springs. The district is concerned about the impact of pollutants from the effluent on the environment, but it is also concerned about the impact pollutants might have on drinking water wells. So the dye tracing will include well testing.

Richard Beggs, president of Protect Our Water, said the Hays Trinity district has already identified several wells to be tested and installed monitoring devices as part of the dye trace study.

Beggs expects the study to produce useful information, showing whether there is significant impact or no impact on the Trinity aquifer and nearby wells. If there is no impact, “then they’re out of it,” he predicted.

For Rogers, it’s important that her district has a seat at the table, even if it ends up settling with Dripping Springs.

All parties have until Dec. 8 to notify TCEQ if they wish to contest the permit, according to Chris Herrington, chief engineer for the city’s Watershed Protection Department. Austin and Protect Our Water have attempted to negotiate with Dripping Springs to adopt a 100 percent beneficial reuse solution, as opposed to seeking a permit that would allow any treated wastewater to be discharged into Onion Creek.

In July, the federal Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its objection to Dripping Springs’ application for the permit. Because of objections from the EPA, TCEQ told Dripping Springs that it would require a total nitrogen limit of six milligrams per liter in the wastewater effluent. In addition, TCEQ is requiring that the effluent be chlorinated. However, the EPA’s decision to withdraw its objections was a significant victory for Dripping Springs.

In its press release, Dripping Springs noted that it has “signed reuse contracts with groups to accept close to 500,000 gallons per day of treated effluent. This, combined with plans the City has to irrigate city-owned land, accounts for approximately 600,000 gallons per day, which puts a significant dent into the proposed allowable maximum of 995,000 gallons per day.”

In addition, Dripping Springs is working with local landowner Scott Roberts, who is interested in using effluent for a development he is proposing in Driftwood. “A feasibility study is now being conducted to evaluate that development accepting up to one million gallons of treated effluent for beneficial reuse,” the Dripping Springs news release said.

Dripping Springs said in a previous press release that because of significant population growth in the area, “EPA believes having the wastewater treatment facility is necessary to maintain the high quality waters in Onion Creek.”

However, Herrington told the Monitor that Austin disagrees with the EPA’s findings, “and we believe the draft permit, even with the TCEQ proposed revisions, is not protective of Onion Creek water quality.” Austin City Council is scheduled to receive a legal briefing in executive session on the matter at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Dripping Springs said its agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority “recognizes the City’s plans and existing contracts for beneficial reuse and provides Dripping Springs with the ability to operate its treatment plant in such a way as to maximize its reuse opportunities.” The press release also states that “Once the City demonstrates that discharge will only occur in limited unavoidable circumstances, no additional infrastructure will be required. If avoidable discharges do occur beyond the agreed-upon circumstances, the City will be required to invest in and build additional infrastructure.”

TCEQ will likely decide to send the permit question to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Such a hearing is unlikely to take place before February 2018, but could be considerably later.

Photo: Public Domain, Link

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Dripping Springs: The municipality centered on US290-West in Hays County.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: environmental regulating authority for the State of Texas.

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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.

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