Debate rages over discharge permit

Debate raged during a public meeting at Dripping Springs Ranch Park Nov. 10 over the city of Dripping Springs’ proposed discharge permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The meeting, requested by Texas State Representative Jason Isaac, gave residents the chance to address concerns about wastewater discharge potentially polluting Onion Creek as a result of the city’s draft permit. The permit would allow the city to discharge close to one million gallons of treated effluent into Walnut Springs, which is a tributary of Onion Creek.

TCEQ staff, as well as Andy Barrett, Dripping Springs city attorney who spoke on behalf of the city, addressed residents’ questions.

The public forum was moderated by Brad Paterson, by a member of TCEQ staff, who worked in the office of the Chief Clerk for TCEQ.

A student laments missing Tiger football’s opening playoff game for the TCEQ permit meeting. (photo by Samantha Smith)

A student laments missing Tiger football’s opening playoff game for the TCEQ permit meeting. (photo by Samantha Smith)

“We feel bad that people are concerned about this,” Barret said.

Barrett explained to residents before the question/answer segment of the meeting that there are many options for cities when it comes to wastewater permits, but a discharge permit through TCEQ would be more “flexible” for the city.

Barrett said the city is currently on a drip irrigation system in Dripping Springs, which is not a great system for the area due to the soil consistency.

Barrett said from the beginning of the application process a few years ago, the city has intended to use the bulk of the effluent water for beneficial reuse instead of discharging 995,000 gallons into Onion Creek daily.

“We really believe we are going to be reusing most of the water most of the time,” Barrett said.

Paterson reminded everyone that the meeting was an open public forum in which no decisions regarding the acceptance or denial of the discharge permit application were going to be made.

One question posed by Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer board of directors president Blayne Stansberry extended to the possibility to abate the application process if compelling evidence was found proving discharging into Onion Creek would cause negative effects prompted acceptable responses.

Rick Braun, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) board president, wanted to know if the draft permit could be changed based on environmental concerns and wanted copies of documents from TCEQ.

“There is still the possibility we can change the draft permit,” TCEQ staff answered.

Sixty-five people signed up to speak in the public comment portion of the meeting. Through the varied comments, a single unanimous theme rose to the ears of the TCEQ and city of Dripping Springs. Many residents held concerns of the potential for biochemical pollutants in drinking and recreation water as a result of the city discharging treated effluent into Onion Creek.

Rich Beggs, president of Protect our Water, held signs during his comment that warned people to not drink, wash or prepare food with water from a well. Beggs said he had hoped the city would not have to place similar signs as a result of the permit.

“We want growth in the community, but not at the risk of human health,” one person said.

One solution presented by a public commenter was for TCEQ to perform a radioactive dye test to determine the path of the discharged water by tracking the dye from the source of the discharge.

No decisions have been made at this point as the draft permit application is still being reviewed by TCEQ.

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