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Dripping Springs draft discharge permit gets hearing

Thursday, March 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has determined the participants in a contested case hearing for a proposed discharge permit that would allow Dripping Springs to discharge close to a million gallons of wastewater a day into Walnut Springs Creek, a tributary of Onion Creek. Today, the commission announced that the city of Austin could proceed to the hearing for a determination of how it is affected. Save Barton Creek Association, Protect Our Water, Save Our Springs Alliance and several landowners will be allowed to participate in the hearing as well. The preliminary hearing is likely to be set for approximately 45 days from yesterday, March 7, and will be complete 180 days after that. At the hearing, the affected parties will present arguments for and against the proposed permit, and TCEQ will make a ruling to grant the permit as-is, deny the permit or change the permit’s terms. Onion Creek recharges Barton Springs, as well as the Trinity and Edwards aquifers. TCEQ approved the draft permit in 2016 amid vocal concern from landowners, environmental groups and the city of Austin. Protect Our Water said on Facebook today that the group “continues to protest this permit particularly because of the recent dye/trace study results that confirm groundwater (wells providing drinking water) will be at risk if any discharges are released into Onion Creek or its tributaries.” At press time, the city had not issued a public response to the hearing news, however, Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell published a blog post at the end of January in response to these dye trace study results. He writes that the study found “that there is a connection between some wells in the area and water in Onion Creek,” but he urges the public to consider the difference between “connectivity” and “impact.” “I want to point out the difference between CONNECTIVITY between the Creek and groundwater or wells and IMPACT on the groundwater and wells,” the post says. “These are two separate and distinct issues when it comes to the subject of the City’s pending wastewater discharge permit. Even if this study ends up definitively showing connectivity, we have no information that would suggest that any discharge of wastewater effluent would negatively affect wells or water that is currently suitable for drinking. What I can say is that, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s response to comments, our draft permit includes some of the most stringent effluent limits of any discharge permit in the State of Texas and the level of surface water protection specified in the permit will ensure protection of groundwater quality. If the TCEQ reaches a different conclusion based on this study, we will address any new conclusions as they come.”

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