Dye test raises questions on discharge permit

Two weeks after a study showed connectivity between Onion Creek and the Trinity Aquifer, Dripping Springs’ top elected official is now weighing in on the matter.

In an online statement, Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell said connectivity between Onion Creek and the Trinity Aquifer and its impact on wells are “two separate and distinct issues when it comes to the subject of the city’s pending wastewater discharge permit.”

Purcell’s comments come after the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District  (HTGCD)provided the city its preliminary results from a dye trace test on Onion Creek.

Joining the HTGCD in the test were the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer District (BSEACD), the Meadows Center at Texas State University and the city of Austin.

According to initial results of the study, a hydrological connection was found between Onion Creek and the Middle Trinity Aquifer. That conclusion was made after dye injected in several karsts was discovered in several area wells that obtain water from the middle Trinity aquifer. According to the report, dye was found in those wells roughly 24 hours after injection and roughly a mile from the injection point. 

Purcell said in his statement the affected wells were privately owned and that the public water supply wells “do not appear to be affected.”

If results are accurate, Purcell said it is a “concern to me” as the wells are currently being impacted by water in Onion Creek. However, Purcell said runoff water goes into the creek and “contains pesticides, petroleum products, fertilizers and animal waste.”

“If there is a direct connection, I am concerned that those wells are not safe as they are currently being used,” Purcell said.

But Purcell claims there is a difference between connectivity between Onion Creek and groundwater and the impact it could have on area wells.

“Even if this study ends up definitively showing connectivity, we have no information that would suggest that any discharge of wastewater effluent would negatively affect wells or water that is currently suitable for drinking,” Purcell said.

The city’s draft permit “includes some of the most stringent effluent limits of any discharge permit” in the state, Purcell said. He claims if a different conclusion is reached by the TCEQ, the city would address any new concerns.

Dripping Springs is also seeking a discharge permit from the TCEQ for the purpose of beneficial reuse, Purcell said. Dripping Springs is seeking the permit to expand its wastewater treatment plant to a capacity of 995,000 gallons per day.

Roughly 600,000 of the 995,000 gallons per day have been accounted for beneficial reuse with the ultimate goal of 100% reuse, Purcell said.

“I know that I speak for the Council when I say that we feel confident that we will not need to discharge into Onion Creek, certainly not anytime soon, and that we are committed to achieving 100% reuse, as we have been from the time we filed our permit application,” Purcell said.

But Jeff Shaw, board member of Protect our Water (POW), a group opposed to Dripping Springs’ permit, said in a statement the “dye does not lie.”

According to a press release, POW officials believe the dye test “confirms” the connectivity between Onion Creek and the aquifer. Officials with POW also hold concern if the city discharges treated effluent into Onion Creek, it could flow into potentially “hundreds of local wells”

Dr. Lauren Ross said in a statement there are more than 200 water supply wells near or downstream from the proposed sewage discharge point. She claims four of the wells are public supply wells.

“The Mayor is putting my family’s drinking water at risk, and needs to withdraw the discharge permit application immediately or formally commit in writing to 100% beneficial reuse that avoids any creek discharge,” said POW Board Member Wes Pitts.

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