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TCEQ OKs Dripping Springs discharge permit

Friday, March 1, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a wastewater discharge permit to Dripping Springs on Wednesday, giving the city authority to expand its existing wastewater plant and discharge up to 822,500 gallons of effluent per day into Onion Creek. However, Dripping Springs has committed to beneficial reuse of the effluent in an effort to avoid polluting the aquifer, as Barton Springs environmentalists have long feared might happen.

Area landowners, the Save Barton Creek Association, a Hays County group called Protect Our Water, Save Our Springs Alliance, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, and the city of Austin all opposed the discharge at TCEQ. (TCEQ found the city of Austin not eligible to participate.) In the end, all of the groups except the SOS Alliance agreed to a settlement.

At the time, Clark Hancock, president of the SBCA board, said, “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).”

Bill Bunch, executive director of the SOS Alliance, said Thursday that the environmental group still has grave concerns about the negative impact of any discharge into Onion Creek and that the group will probably file a motion for rehearing at TCEQ. In all likelihood, the commission will reject the motion. After that, he said he expects to end up in Travis County District Court.

Bunch noted that any discharge into Onion Creek will end up in Barton Springs, greatly increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorous. He asserted that TCEQ’s decision to grant the permit is a violation of the federal Clean Water Act and of state rules related to water.

Craig Smith, one of the directors of BSEACD, told the Austin Monitor that under the settlement agreement Dripping Springs would be required to appoint a utility commission to advise the city on how to avoid discharge in the future, among other things. He said so far the commission has not been named, but the agreement was specific about the categories of people the city would need to appoint, such as a member of Protect Our Water and a representative from the Hays-Trinity district.

According to a press release from Dripping Springs, the city now plans to move into the design and construction phases of expansion for the existing plant. Deputy City Administrator Ginger Faught told the Monitor on Thursday that the next step would be an application to the Texas Water Development Board for a loan to assist the city in building the plant. The city expects it will take up to two years to complete expansion of the plant.

Hancock said, “We are looking forward to Dripping Springs living up to their agreement and we truly hope that they will stand by their commitment to not discharge into Onion Creek.”

Dripping Springs notes that City Council approved a reuse agreement in January with a golf course development in Driftwood that will bring the city’s commitment for reuse to a level in excess of the new allowable maximum of 822,500 gallons per day. The city says it currently produces about 130,000 gallons a day, and the new limit and proposed plant expansion should accommodate its needs for the next decade.

To get an idea of how fast the city is growing, Faught referred us to the website for Dripping Springs Independent School District, which reports that its total enrollment was 6,848 students as of the close of the first week of school last fall. “A historical look reveals that just five years ago, at the start of the 2013-14 school year, DSISD enrollment was 5,082. The current projected total would represent an increase of 35 percent from that 2013-14 mark. Ten years ago, total enrollment was 4,141.” The district projects its student population will hit 10,000 by 2023 or 2024.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Parkinson.

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