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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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SOS Alliance wins suit against TCEQ
Monday, November 2, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled last week in favor of the Save Our Springs Alliance, reversing a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that would have allowed the city of Dripping Springs to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek in Hays County. Bill Bunch, executive director of SOSA, told the Austin Monitor, “The TCEQ was ignoring both the law and the science in granting the permit … and in our view this ruling should put an end to new discharges to Hill Country streams.” A number of environmental organizations opposed discharges into Onion Creek, but based on a perception that TCEQ would grant the permit anyway, they reached a settlement in 2018. In her decision, Judge Gamble wrote that TCEQ’s approach to degradation of the creek “converts municipal wastewater discharges into benefits that should be encouraged rather than, as the Clean Water Act provides, pollutants to be eliminated from our nation’s waters.” The city of Dripping Springs, which had intervened in the suit on the side of TCEQ, had argued that the wastewater discharge would somehow “enrich Onion Creek, making it more biologically productive, while deeming as irrelevant effects of the discharge on native aquatic species adapted to the very low nutrient conditions of Onion Creek and other Hill Country streams,” the judge wrote. Such an interpretation “has turned the Clean Water Act upside down. This approach allowed the (administrative law judge) and the agency to ignore as irrelevant the multiple scientific studies introduced into the record concluding that increasing phosphorus in Texas streams” above a certain level “would lead to a displacement of native aquatics by more nutrient-tolerant and lower dissolved oxygen tolerant species,” according to Judge Gamble. Dripping Springs has moved forward with its new wastewater treatment plant, but so far has only disposed of the wastewater through irrigation. Bunch said the city had indicated it would start discharging into the creek when it reached 400,000 gallons a day, but is not at that level yet. If the state decides to appeal, which seems likely, the next court to hear the matter will be the 3rd Court of Appeals.
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