BSEACD to protest Dripping Springs wastewater permit

A legal battle involving Dripping Springs’ wastewater permit application could be coming after an Austin-area water conservation district moved to file a formal protest.

On Nov. 16, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors voted 5-0 to move forward with filing a contested case hearing, or a protest, with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Dripping Springs wastewater permit application, said Blayne Stansberry, BSEACD Board president.

“The creek is so pristine, so valuable for water quality recharge . . .this kind of discharge permit does not makes sense in the Hill Country . . . in this ecoregion,” Stansberry said.

She said the particular area of Onion Creek where discharge could take place has many recharge features, areas where surface water goes directly into the ground, that it would affect Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation’s (DSWSC) water source.

Dripping Spring’s permit to TCEQ asks for up to 995,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater to be discharged into Walnut Springs, which feeds into Onion Creek, according to documents from city officials.

“So the water in the creek goes right down in the aquifer, the drinking water for thousands and thousands of people,” Stansberry said.

The rapid growth in the area “is compromising the city’s ability to make smart choices,” she said.

She said for cities,  a discharge application might be the most economical route, but that it does not always mean the most appropriate.

She said the city of Austin has made recommendation to TCEQ to amend a rule on land use permits, so that it could offer cities more opportunities to expand waste water treatment capacity.

Currently, Dripping Springs has a land use permit which allows for treated wastewater to be stored and irrigated over land.

In a telephone interview on Nov. 12, Michelle Fischer, Dripping Springs city administrator, said a discharge permit would allow them more flexibility in where they can irrigate the treated effluent without increasing the acreage to the existing waste water facility.

In a side agreement the city made with the Lower Creek River Authority (LCRA), discharge into Walnut Springs would only occur in unavoidable situations such as when the ground is too saturated to be irrigated, according to an email from an LCRA official.

Although the agreement the city made with LCRA is better than nothing, the city “still has not made a viable guarantee that the treated wastewater will be reused,” the LCRA official said.

While BSEACD is contesting Dripping Springs’ permit, a western Hays County water conservation district Nov. 15 voted against filing an official protest.

Instead, the Hays Trinity Aquifer Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) Board of Directors voted to write a letter to TCEQ to state their concerns. 

Linda Kay Rogers, HTGCD board president, said the board doesn’t believe under any circumstances that dumping treated wastewater into the creek is good, but lacks the evidence to prove the extent of the problem.

“It’s like there is no witness to the crime; our hands our tied,” she said.

She said the district would conduct a dye trace test to gather evidence to make the case that the wastewater discharge will have an impact on the aquifers. 

Previous studies have been conducted by HTGCD in partnership with the BSEACD and other groups that have demonstrated a relationship between the water in Onion Creek and the water found in the Hays aquifer, said Jeffery Watson, the district’s hydrogeologist, in a Nov. 16 phone interview.

The upcoming dye trace test will provide further proof of the impact that discharging treated wastewater into Onion Creek will directly affect the aquifer, Watson said.

The test involves introducing non-toxic dyes into Onion Creek at the location the city plans to discharge its wastewater to study where the water flows, he said.

The test will help determine how much of the water flows downstream and how much seeps into the ground and enters the Trinity (and Edwards) aquifers, the water source the district is charged to oversee and protect, Rogers said.

Another concern for the district is the treatment level of effluent, or wastewater, the city has described in its permit application, is not at the highest treatment level, she said.  

This story has been updated to reflect a quote on the LCRA’s agreement with the city of Dripping Springs that had been made by an LCRA official. In our original story, the quote had been incorrectly attributed to Michelle Fischer, who is Dripping Springs’ city administrator. We apologize for the error. 

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