Aquifer districts join Dripping Springs permit fight

A pair of water conservation districts have now joined the fray surrounding Dripping Springs’ permit request to expand its wastewater treatment system.

Administrative Law Judges for the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) Bill Newchurch and Laura Valdez granted the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) and the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) affected party status at a May 21 hearing in downtown Austin.

The decision by the judges marked a victory for the districts which were not initially selected as an affected party by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  On May 21, the city of Dripping Springs’ legal team contested the status of the districts, but ultimately did not convince the judges.

The two districts will join Save Barton Creek Association, Save Our Springs (SOS) Alliance, Protect Our Water (POW) and other property owners in the affected discharge area near Onion Creek.

“BSEACD getting standing is very important. They have wells that will most probably be affected. The aquifer does not recognize any boundaries and its water does indeed cross from our district to theirs,” said Linda Kaye-Rodgers, president of the HTGCD. “In addition, we will be able to work with BSEACD to streamline the case and save time and money if this goes to a full contested case.”

Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said that although the contested case process is by its nature an adversarial process, the city is confident that the groundwater districts and the city will continue to have frank and honest discussions about the proposed permit and the city’s efforts to reuse the treated effluent through TCEQ’s beneficial reuse program.

Dripping Springs has worked with and will continue to work with both ground water districts, as we go through the contested case process, Faught said.

A final hearing will commence within the next few months. Its outcome will give TCEQ enough information to either grant the permit, deny it or grant with contingencies.

The contested case hearing through SOAH came to light because of citizen protests of the permit after a dye trace study showed a direct correlation between the discharge point and wells that were used for drinking water.

At the May 21 hearing, the city of Austin was another party which was seeking affected party status.

Austin is basing its affected party status on a conservation easement giving city officials authority to monitor the environmental impact to Onion Creek.

After hours of deliberation, the judges neither granted nor denied Austin party status, a decision that will be made in the future.

Despite the water districts receiving affected party status, the city of Dripping Springs is still confident in the merits of the application.

“Obviously, we believe SOAH made the right decision that remedied a wrong for our constituents,” said Kirk Holland, general manager for the BSEACD. “But now that we are a party in the contested case, it is a legal proceeding and we cannot make substantive comment on it.”

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