The creation of a Utility Commission in Dripping Springs earlier this month marks another crucial step for city leaders to have 100 percent beneficial reuse from its wastewater treatment plant.
As part of closed-door negotiations between the Dripping Springs City Council and parties with affected status in State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) meetings, the commission will help ensure that the city does not discharge water into neighboring creeks and waterways, which was a major point of concern from local residents, water districts and environmental activists.
The five-person commission will consist of two representatives from the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD), a member from city staff or Public Works and two residents who reside within city limits.
On Nov. 28, the News-Dispatch reported that SOAH recommended the approval of the City of Dripping Springs’ wastewater permit to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The wastewater permit would authorize the discharge of up to 822,500 gallons per day of treated wastewater into a small tributary of Walnut Springs, which flows into Onion Creek.
However, the formation of the Utility Commission is going to pave the way for 100 percent beneficial reuse, so discharge does not occur, according to city officials.
“In settlement agreements, you always have to take a little and give a little,” said Linda Rogers, president of the HTGCD. “We had the strongest standing and position in our protest of the permit, so I believe the City of Dripping Springs knew they had to include us in the discussion.”
Rogers said HTGCD officials will be discussing which members to appoint to the commission, which should be decided by January.
However, an ordinance amendment that paved the way for creation of the commission allows the city of Dripping Springs to reject HTGCD representative appointments. If that takes place, HTGCD officials would have to nominate another possible representative to the commission.
Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said the city is currently working to contract with different developments in the city that will help move towards the goal of reuse.
The city of Dripping Springs has contracts with the Caliterra development, Heritage and Howard Ranch for the use of treated wastewater. Additionally, the city is currently working out to draft a contractual agreement with the Driftwood Golf Course Development.
“The biggest aspect here is moving towards the city’s goal of 100 percent beneficial reuse,” Faught said. “Golf courses are high water users, so that development would take a lot of the effluent we are producing for irrigation and storage.”
The development could potentially take in roughly 15 million gallons of treated effluent for storage or irrigation.
“What’s also important is that these communities would otherwise be using groundwater or surface water,” Faugh said. “So from the city’s perspective, this is a much more environmentally sensible use of water.”
This would allow pressures to be eased off of the aquifer and other waterways, according to city officials.
The commission will be a recommending body to the city council, and will not take policy-driven action. According to the city’s report on the ordinance amendment, the city council will have the authority to remove members of the commission at any time.
The commission will meet on the second Wednesday of each month and agendas will be drafted by the commission chair. A report on the commission’s progress will be addressed to the city council on a monthly basis.
Based on the report, the city council will be the main overseer of the commission, holding authority that will not be granted to other members of the commission.
These outlined rules were based on conversations during the settlement agreement reached by the city and contesting parties to not fight the discharge permit.
The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS), which was granted affected status in the SOAH meetings, was the only party which did not agree to settle during this process and was not a part of the settlement discussions.