nion Creek is both a defining landmark and a potent talisman for our community, symbolizing as it does both the bounteous wonder and the fragility of our little part of the world. In peril from recurrent drought and changing climate, and even development on its banks, now Onion Creek could become a sewage disposal site.
The city of Dripping Springs is preparing to submit for a permit to discharge waste water into the creek. The city’s formal application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is expected in the next 30-60 days.
The city has plenty of reason to expand its waste water treatment system. It’s important for the city to gain the ability to manage additional sewage disposal for several reasons: to carry out its plans for Mercer Street and old town, to allow for economic growth, and to take more homes of septic systems. The city has a treatment plan with capacity, but no place to discharge treated sewage. Thus the application.
But while the city’s need is real, there may be a better solution. Or at least reason to move slowly.
A coalition of landowners, business owners, community groups and other citizens in the Dripping Springs area have organized to oppose the discharge permit. It’s an issue not only for Dripping and Driftwood residents, but potentially for downstream prairie neighborhoods in Buda and Austin.
The proposed plan would take all of Dripping Springs’ wastewater to the edge of town and dump it on the city’s downstream neighbors. It will potentially impact up to 11 miles of Onion Creek.
While the wastewater would be treated, this process will not remove phosphates and nitrates, which opponents argue, convincingly, could cause large and unsightly algae blooms and moss growth that could seriously harm the ecology of this pristine creek. There also would not be enough oxygen in the wastewater for most living creatures.
The Driftwood Historical Conservation Society (DHCS), a new organization dedicated to conserving the natural beauty of the Onion Creek valley, as well as its history and tourism value, is among those outspoken in opposition.
Along with the Onion Creek Coalition they are asking the Dripping Springs City Council to take a step back and give reasonable thought and consideration to alternative options, rather than push forward with the current plan to dump wastewater into Onion Creek.
Late last month, a regional waste water-planning symposium sponsored by Dripping Mayor Todd Purcell and Austin Mayor Steve Adler looked at long range waste water challenges and ideas, including alternatives to direct disposal into Onion Creek above the sensitive Edwards Aquifer contributing zone.
One attractive alternative is to reuse and dispose of treated wastewater for irrigation, for parks and public common areas or recreation facilities such as golf courses, especially since water is in such short supply.
That type of “land application” can be difficult and expensive right now because of burdensome state rules at TCEQ, making it a more costly option. The regional wastewater plan in progress aims to reduce this cost, making surface irrigation a more viable option. (Additionally, some of these costs can be recovered by selling the treated water to buyers such as master-planned communities.)
This is the chance for city leaders to shine.
The council can take the time to come up with a responsible plan that is best for all the citizens of Dripping Springs – and downstream neighbors; one that will preserve that delicate ribbon of beauty with wild onions along its banks, the creek that helps define our region and is at the same time one of its best resources for recharge water and for the tourism and event attraction that is an increasingly important part of the economy here at the edge of the Hill Country.
Our state officials need to change the rules to make it easier for cities like Dripping to seek other options, especially as we all come to recognize that reuse of water is integral to our future. Dripping and regional leaders should push for it, and take the time necessary to explore creative ways to preserve the native state of the creek – and to bring consensus.
There are viable alternatives to the disposal of this wastewater that would preserve the quality and integrity of Onion Creek for current residents and future generations. The current option is simply not the right path for this region to take on the issue.
Dripping is right to pursue improvements to its waste waster system, and the current disposal plan may be the least expensive idea in terms of dollars. But there will be a huge price to pay in the long run in likely damage to priceless natural resource, community peace, and downstream trust.