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Most groups, Dripping Springs reach settlement

Friday, July 6, 2018 by Jo Clifton

More than two and a half years after the city of Dripping Springs filed a request for a wastewater discharge permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that alarmed environmentalists and nearby landowners about potential damage to Onion Creek, drinking water and Barton Springs, all of the environmental groups except one, as well as local property owners, have reached an agreement with the city that they believe will minimize potential harm to the environment.

The Save Barton Creek Association announced Thursday that the organization, along with Protect Our Water, Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and several landowners have entered into a settlement agreement with Dripping Springs.

Under the agreement, “Dripping Springs has agreed not to dump sewage into Onion Creek for the immediate future and (will) create a Utility Commission that will help them meet their goals of wastewater reuse,” according to an emailed statement from the Save Barton Creek Association.

When it filed the request, Dripping Springs was requesting to discharge 995,000 gallons per day of treated wastewater into the Onion Creek Watershed. The TCEQ issued a draft permit in 2016 to authorize that amount of discharge into a tributary, known as Walnut Springs, that flows into Onion Creek.

Dripping Springs and its various adversaries have been involved in the beginnings of a contested case hearing over the proposed permit. Even though the city of Austin also has opposed the permit, the TCEQ refused to allow Austin to participate.

Bill Bunch of the SOS Alliance confirmed that the organization will continue its protest at the TCEQ.

Dripping Springs has contended all along that it would work to use the water for irrigation and has entered into a number of beneficial reuse permits for the wastewater from its treatment facility. As part of the agreement, the growing city has agreed to reduce the discharge limit for the permit to 822,500 gallons per day.

Ginger Faught, deputy administrator for Dripping Springs, told the Austin Monitor, “This settlement really focuses on what we have said we were going to do from the beginning of this process, which is a reuse program. We’re happy with the settlement agreement. We think the addition of the utility commission is going to be helpful. It’s what we said we were going to do, and it’s absolutely what we are committed to now.”

City scientists have noted that Onion Creek has proven interactions with local groundwater and wells, and it supplies approximately a third of the flow at Barton Springs. “A permit will still be issued, but if Dripping Springs stands by their commitments and the community continues to work together to protect our creeks and aquifers, we might be able to hand down to future generations a legacy we can be proud (of),” said Clark Hancock, president of the SBCA board, in a statement.

“What this agreement says is ‘No Discharge for now,’” Hancock added. “What we need is ‘No Discharge forever.’ SBCA is committed to continued engagement with Dripping Springs to help them meet their pledge of 100% reuse of wastewater. Our greater concern is that this issue isn’t limited to Dripping Springs. Region wide, there are others who are greedily looking at their local creeks as easy and cheap answers to complicated questions. They are wrong. Discharging sewage into local creeks is short-sighted and environmentally devastating, destroying the very essence of what makes the Hill Country so special. SBCA will continue our campaign against the practice of direct discharge, continuing to support sound science and wise engineering for Central Texas.”

The city of Austin refused to reach a settlement agreement with Dripping Springs last December before the TCEQ ruled that the city was not eligible to participate.

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