Photo by city of Austin
Wednesday, November 25, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

Environmental Commission approves variances for water treatment plant upgrades

The Environmental Commission on Friday approved a series of environmental variances for improvements to the Albert H. Ullrich water treatment plant near Tom Miller Dam and Red Bud Isle west of downtown Austin.

A total of seven variances are needed to construct a new electrical building, retaining walls, new electrical and mechanical equipment and duct bank routing for the Ullrich water treatment plant, which is the city’s biggest in terms of treatment capacity.

“This is largely due to the site’s location in an environmentally sensitive area with numerous environmental constraints,” said Pamela Abee-Taulli, an environmental review specialist with the Development Services Department.

Abee-Taulli noted the property is in a drinking water protection zone, is bounded by critical water quality zones and water quality transition zones, encompasses both wetland and rimrock environmental features, and has numerous heritage trees.

“Staff are satisfied that the proposed projects are necessary to make critical upgrades to replace old and outdated equipment, to provide improved environmental controls and to increase safety for plant staff,” Abee-Taulli said. “In fact, environmental conditions will be improved by providing treatment for contaminated runoff and eliminating currently occurring erosion from runoff on slopes.”

Bobby Levinski with the Save Our Springs Alliance said the number of requested variances warranted a “closer look” at the project.

“It’s not too much of a shock, given the location of the property, that anything you do on it would require environmental variances,” he said. “Staff did a pretty good job of explaining how their design does kind of limit the environmental impact and work with the constraints of the site well.”

But Levinski said parts of an access road seemed “a little more like a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a requirement.”

“For the most part, that access road could be avoided,” he said.

Abee-Taulli said the access road would be in areas that have seen previous erosion.

“So it was already cleared,” she said. “If it has to be had, the location is I think the best location you could have for it.”

The applicant argued the duct bank and the access road on top of it will be critical not just for the water treatment plant’s improvements, but for keeping equipment from being damaged in the future.

Commissioners approved the variances unanimously.

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City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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