More officials stand against discharge permit

By Moses Leos III

Roughly a week after the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) formally opposed Dripping Springs’ proposed discharge permit, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) Thursday followed suit.

By a 4-1 vote, the HTGCD made a resolution opposing issuance by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) of Dripping Springs’ proposed permit to discharge treated effluent into Walnut Springs until more science is conducted. Board member Jimmy Skipton cast the lone dissenting vote.

District 4 board member Linda Kaye Rogers said passage of the resolution was a “sigh of relief.” She said the GCD needed to be “leaders in this” and was “embarrassed Barton Springs got on this before we did.”

On June 30, the BSEACD passed its resolution asking Dripping Springs and TCEQ to delay action on the proposed discharge permit, which could directly discharge treated effluent into the recharge zone of the Trinity Aquifer.

“I feel like some of our board members closer to all of this should have brought it up,” Rogers said. “I’m pleased. It opens it up for us to have time to come to the table and do what we need to do (to find a solution).”

In a some times contentious meeting on Thursday, 14 people spoke against Dripping Springs’ permit and voiced concerns about water quality in Onion Creek if the permit is granted.

Dripping Springs’ proposed permit could discharge close to 1 million gallons per day of treated effluent into Walnut Springs, which is a tributary of Onion Creek. It’s part of the city’s wastewater treatment plant expansion project.

Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said the city’s current treatment plant is operating at 70,000 gallons per day, with capacity set at 350,000 gpd.

When asked about the permit for discharge doubling, Faught said it didn’t “make economic sense” for the city to expand to 500,000 gpd, then expand again in two years.

While she said city council continues to consider options such as Direct Potable Reuse, the city still wants to obtain a discharge permit, as opposed to a land application for discharge. She said the city plans on and has contracts for Chapter 210 beneficial reuse to irrigate ball fields and parkland.

“In our mind, it makes more sense to go through discharge and put dollars to purple pipe than to put in a land applicaton and infrastructure and not use it,” Faught said.

No city council members were in attendance at the HTGCD meeting Thursday.

Wes Pitts, President of Protect our Water, held concerns the city’s desire to expand into a regional wastewater system could “potentially devastate” the water quality and health of Onion Creek. He said the city could also pollute drinking water supply for Dripping Springs and affect “well owners and downstream interests” of the Middle Trinity and Edwards Aquifer.

GW Smith Gordon, a representative for Camp Ben McCullough, said the park’s livelihood and longevity “100 percent depends” on Onion Creek.

Resident Susan Cook, who was concerned about rampant growth in the area, said not every place has to “become the city and not every place has to become polluted.”

“Let me swim in (Camp) Ben McCullough forever, and not have to worry I’m taking hypertension drugs,” Cook said. “This body has a duty to do the right thing by our water … a resolution based on science, good sense and good neighborliness is what’s called for right now.”

Al Broun, a geologist for HTGCD, said there was a discovery of a loss of flow from Onion Creek as it reaches an area over the Cow Creek formation of the Middle Trinity Aquifer.

Chemistry shown from samples collected from one of four Dripping Springs Water Supply Wells, which obtains water from the Middle Trinity and are downstream of the discharge point, show freshwater collected in the wells.

While Broun said it’s unknown how much or how fast recharge from Onion Creek into the Upper and Middle Trinity occurs, he said there is “evidence to believe” some of Onion Creek “in all probability might end up in the DSWSC wells.” 

Brian Smith, principal hydrogeologist with the BSEACD, said studies were conducted on Onion Creek, which painted a “better picture” that the creek was one of the major contributors of recharge to the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer, but also the Upper and Middle Trinity.

Smith said further tests, such as dye testing, will be needed for further study.

Rogers said the board had to make a decision Thursday on what its stance was on the permit. She said the HTGCD didn’t have “time to wait two weeks.”

She ultimately hopes for a compromise from all parties to keep the aquifers protected.

“There’s going to have to be some give and take by everybody,” Rogers said.

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