After months of grueling deliberation and closed-door settlements, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) is recommending to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approval of the city of Dripping Springs wastewater permit.
The wastewater discharge permit would authorize the discharge of up to 822,500 gallons per day (GPD) of treated wastewater into a small tributary of Walnut Springs, which flows into Onion Creek.
“While a discharge permit is required to expand the treatment plant, the city has always had significant plans for beneficial reuse and has been committed to that goal since day one,” according to a city statement. “In fact, it has been negotiating reuse contracts for years, separate and apart from any settlement talks. (The city) never intended to discharge.”
In July, The News-Dispatch reported that a settlement was reached between the city of Dripping Springs and affected parties in the case.
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 SOAH for a contested case against the permit.
However, the Save our Springs Alliance (SOS), which did not join the settlement, has fought the city’s permit throughout the entire administrative process.
The original application to TCEQ called for the city to discharge up to 995,000 GPD; that amount was reduced in the settlement.
Lesli Ginn, the chief administrative law judge on the case, included additional provisions to the permit, including measures to protect groundwater, wildlife and water quality as outlined by the Texas Surface Quality Standards.
Ginn agreed with the city on all 12 issues that were submitted for the contested case, concluding that the application should be granted with the additional provisions listed above.
SOS staff members did not respond as of press time.
According to the SOAH literature, which will be submitted to TCEQ, SOS argued, through scientific analysis from two Texas State University professors, that the permit would impact the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.
Additionally, SOS asserted the effluent discharge may increase phosphate levels up to 30 times the existing concentration, creating toxic conditions for the salamander and other wildlife.
Dripping Springs officials rebutted these claims, citing that the proper permitting standards designated to ensure the protection of wildlife are outlined by the state. According to the report, the city argues that the state’s standards are what govern, not studies that apply different standards or analysis.
“After considering the totality of the record, administrative law judge (Ginn) concludes that SOS’s concerns lack a sufficiently reliable foundation,” the report read. “While SOS’s experts are knowledgeable in their respective fields, their expertise does not extend to the applicable standards and rules related to wastewater permitting.”
Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said the city’s application was thoroughly researched and vetted. Faught said city officials felt the permit is the best path forward in regard to both fiscal and environmental consciences.
Dripping Springs Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Foulds said in a statement that SOAH’s ruling is “incredibly important for us.”
“Our responsibility is to care for the citizens of our community, to be good stewards of our environment and to plan for the growth that we know is coming. It would be easy to stick our heads in the sand and avoid making tough decisions; that is not what our city is about,” Foulds said.
. “We knew this process would be challenging and would cause concern among some stakeholders. I am incredibly proud we reached a compromise with just about everyone involved.”