Concerns about a proposed wastewater discharge permit that could release 1.6 million gallons per day of treated effluent into the Blanco River is driving Hays County officials to jump into the fray.
On Oct. 12, Hays County Commissioners approved a resolution to become members of the Protect our Blanco organization, a group fighting the city of Blanco’s permit to expand its wastewater treatment system from 225,000 gallons per day capacity to 1.6 million.
Blanco city officials, who earlier this year filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the permit, said guidelines are strict, and favor the preservation of the river. However, Blanco and Hays County residents and officials are arguing for an alternative.
Ronnie Rodriguez, utility director for Blanco, said officials believe the treated water won’t cause any negative effects. Rodriguez said the water is considered cleaner than the river and should not cause harm, and that the city only dumps the water as needed.
Protect Our Blanco, however, is committed to contesting the TCEQ permit because its members believe treated wastewater poses a danger to the river. More than 1,900 people have signed a petition against the permit.
“The wastewater is harmful to plants and river species,” said JT Morgan, president of Protect Our Blanco. “We also don’t know what they’re going to do about pharmaceuticals that will end up in the river. We think that’s very dangerous.”
Rivers with treated wastewater can be negatively affected by excess phosphorus and nitrogen, according to research by Raymond Slade Jr., a certified professional hydrologist of 40 years and professor at Austin Community College. The river could grow thick layers of algae and chemical residue could affect river species. Protect our Blanco references Slade’s findings in its argument.
Pct. 3 County Commissioner Lon Shell said the commissioners court joined the opposition because they want to protect the Blanco River that runs through Hays County and support residents, but also to learn more about wastewater options in Hays County.
“We’re all concerned about the type of discharge going into the river,” Shell said. “The river goes dry in the summer so it could be full of wastewater at times. We’ve met with the group a few times and their goal is to find other options and we support that, we want to help the city find other alternatives.”
Blanco Mayor Martha Herden said the city is seeking the TCEQ permit because the city is preparing to grow and expects to have excess amounts of wastewater and not enough storage.
“We’ve had a permit to discharge the water,” Herden said. “We’re just asking for a greater allowance because we’ll need it eventually.”
The final decision for the permit request will likely be made in 2019.