LCRA signs off on Dripping Springs water permit

An agreement struck between Dripping Springs city leaders and a Central Texas water entity has moved the city’s plans for expanding its wastewater system a few steps forward.

On Nov. 1, the Dripping Springs City Council approved an agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which was one of the potential objectors to the city’s wastewater expansion permit.

Clara Tuma, an official with LCRA, said in an emailed response,  the agreement they’ve entered with the city “requires sewage from the city’s wastewater treatment plant to be channeled over to public spaces like sports fields and parks, or be applied to other beneficial uses.”

The agreement allows for discharge into Walnut Springs, a tributary of Onion Creek, in limited circumstances such as when the land is saturated and cannot absorb any more water due to heavy rainfall, or the ground is frozen, Tuma said.

In 2015, Dripping Springs submitted an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in order to expand its wastewater system to a capacity of 995,000 gallons per day.

At least 81 protests or contested case hearings have been filed with TCEQ, the government body which makes the final approval of the permit, said Andrea Morrow, an official with TCEQ.

Dripping Springs officials anticipated that LCRA would be one of the groups protesting the permit application.

Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said that with the agreement, the city can count on LCRA to be a supporter of its project.

Tuma said the LCRA is satisfied with the city’s permit application because the new agreement “significantly decreases” the amount of treated effluent discharged into the creek, and helps protect water quality.

Dripping Springs is now hoping it can come to an agreement with a handful of other entities that could oppose the permit. 

However, Rick Braun, Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District general manager, said in the past, there was much more conversation with the city about the impact the permitted discharge may have on water quality. However, Braun said those discussions have stopped for some time.

He said how the board responds to this  latest development would be on the agenda in its upcoming board meeting.

The city’s agreement with LCRA does not change the initial permit application with TCEQ, Morrow said.

Last year TCEQ approved the technical aspects of the application; the next step is for TCEQ to determine which requests for a contested case hearing have legal standing.

Only groups or individuals affected by the permit, as determined by a legal definition, will move forward to be heard by an administrative judge, Morrow said.

TCEQ members will take into consideration the judge’s rulings in their final decision on the permit application.

Currently, the city has a land application permit that allows for 348,000 gallons of treated wastewater to be flushed out over at least 25 acres, Faught said.

In its drainage permit application, it would allow the city to irrigate with  treated wastewater in more open spaces than the current permit allows, Faught said.

She said the city has agreements with several developers to accept treated wastewater.

Using treated wastewater is more environmentally friendly, Faught said, than using well water or transported water to irrigate.

The agreement with LCRA commits the city to a reuse program and  also increases effluent treatment levels, she said.

For the city, approval of the application is important as it determines the city’s ability to manage growth, said Mayor Pro Tem Bill Foulds.

Not having adequate utility services means developers put in their own treatment facilities or septic systems and become like their own “mini-cities,” Faught said.

“If we are able to offer wastewater services it lets us enforce our ordinances so that we can have better quality neighborhoods . . .  in the end it will give residents a better quality of life,” he said.

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