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Proposed discharge permit draws ire of city, Environmental Commission

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

The Environmental Commission received an update Wednesday on the impacts of a proposed wastewater treatment plant southwest of Austin.

Abel Porras, the supervising engineer in the Environmental Resource Management Division of the city’s Watershed Protection Department, described the water quality impacts from proposed wastewater discharge into Barton Creek.

The Sawyer-Cleveland Partnership has applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a type of permit to allow treated wastewater effluent to be discharged into a Barton Creek tributary, Porras said.

The discharge location would be just off U.S. Highway 290 between Dripping Springs and Austin.

The Environmental Resource Management Division has modeled the proposed discharge and studied its water quality impact, Porras said. The permit would allow a discharge of up to 92,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day.

Porras said another permit in the Dripping Springs area allows a discharge that’s about as 10 times as much, but the effluent concentration for that discharge is less than what is now proposed. The previous discharge permit attracted significant community opposition at the time.

City officials are mainly concerned about nitrogen and phosphorous in the discharge fueling the growth of algae in nearby streams.

The city has provided its comments to TCEQ, which is now working on a draft permit based on its own modeling.

Porras said TCEQ has been reviewing the permit for over a year, but will likely finish up the draft permit by the end of the year or early next year.

Porras added that the applicant will also need to decide to pursue the project based on the effluent limit in the permit that’s posted.

City Environmental Officer Chris Herrington said the draft permit would be up for public comment for 30 days, adding that it’s the city’s practice to oppose direct discharge of treated effluent in the Barton Springs Zone.

“If it is not protective of water quality, and it does not appear to be so based on the modeling that you’ve seen … then we would submit a request for a contested case hearing,” Herrington said. “That process statutorily is supposed to complete within six months, but it generally takes longer.

“So this one will be around for a while if the applicant does pursue a discharge permit,” he added.

Commissioner Wendy Gordon asked if the city would have standing in the case. Herrington noted that the city does hold a conservation easement nearby.

“So we certainly would argue that the city is an affected party,” he said. “It would affect the intent of that conservation easement to protect the quality of water in Barton Creek and recharging the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.”

Herrington said they have already submitted comments to TCEQ about the city’s interest in the permit.

“We have certainly made our opinion known, as have other of the environmental advocacy groups – certainly Save Barton Creek Association and others – that are tracking this permitting matter as well,” he said.

Commissioner Mary Ann Neely said it was important for the city to communicate that “people in this area are not supporting (the permit).”

“It helps for us, our name, to be there on the list of people not supporting it,” she said.

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