After a legal campaign and community outcry, the city of Dripping Springs has reached a settlement with affected parties that will change provisions to its wastewater permit.
Per the settlement, which was finalized earlier this week, Dripping Springs agreed to reduce its proposed discharge limit to 822,500 gallons per day (gpd). Originally, the city had submitted an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to expand its wastewater treatment system to a capacity of 995,000 gpd.
In addition, Dripping Springs will avoid discharging treated effluent into Walnut Springs or Onion Creek until its wastewater treatment system surpasses a capacity of 399,000 gpd. Currently, Dripping Springs system is operating at a capacity of 80,000 gpd.
However, Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said the city aims to avoid discharge as much as possible. Faught cited an 2017 agreement between the city and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) that spelled out parameters and contingencies that could allow for possible discharge, if necessary.
Dripping Springs also committed to establishing a utility commission that will work to achieve 100 percent beneficial reuse, according to a city press release.
Groups that entered into the settlement agreement were the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA), Protect our Water (POW), Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) and several landowners in the area. All were granted affected party status by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for a contested case against the permit.
According to a release, the Save Our Springs (SOS) Alliance, which was also an objector against the permit and deemed an affected party, did not join in the settlement.
“As a result of the efforts of SBCA and the other protestants, Dripping Springs has agreed not to dump sewage into Onion Creek for the immediate future and create a Utility Commission that will help them meet their goals of wastewater re-use,” said Clark Hancock, SBCA board president in a statement. “A permit will still be issued but, if Dripping Springs stands by their commitments and the community continues to work together to protect our creeks and aquifers, we might be able to hand down to future generations a legacy we can be proud of.”
The wastewater plant project came in light of the city looking for ways to accommodate its growth. Expansion of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) aims to provide capacity to treat wastewater for the next decade.
But residents and water entities in Hays and Travis counties were concerned about the impact of discharging treated effluent into Walnut Springs, a tributary of Onion Creek. A dye trace test conducted in 2017 found “hydrological connectivity” between Onion Creek surface water and recharge of the middle Trinity Aquifer, a source of water for area residents.
According to a city press release, Dripping Springs never intended to discharge, but a permit was required through TCEQ for the expansion of wastewater infrastructure.
“We said from the very outset that our plan was to maximize opportunities for beneficial reuse,” said Dripping Springs Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Foulds said. “My hope is that with the contracts we have in place, as well as our willingness to compromise through the settlement agreement process, demonstrates how serious we are about providing necessary services to our community, while remaining sensitive to our environment.”
Patrick Rose, former Texas House District 45 representative and president of Corridor Title, LLC., said in today’s political climate, he is happy to see government work on occasion.
“Those of us who have long advocated for a sustainable, environmentally sound solution to the growing wastewater needs of Dripping Springs are extremely pleased with this outcome,” Rose said. “The city’s leadership should be commended, as should the representatives of the responsible stakeholder groups who came together for this mutually beneficial settlement. Credit is due to all involved, save and except SOS.”
Dripping Springs’ wastewater saga by the numbers
- 995,000 gallons per day: Requested capacity Dripping Springs sought to expand its wastewater treatment plant to.
- 822,500 gallons per day: Capacity agreed upon by Dripping Springs and several entities for the city’s wastewater treatment system expansion.
- 80,000 gallons per day: Current operating capacity of Dripping Springs’ wastewater system.
- 100 percent: Amount of beneficial reuse the city aims to achieve with its wastewater system expansion.
- 4: Number of entities and water districts that entered into a settlement agreement with Dripping Springs.