SOS lawsuit against TCEQ dampens Dripping wastewater expansion

by Sahar Chmais

DRIPPING SPRINGS – The water fight is on again between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the city of Dripping Springs and Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS).

TCEQ and Dripping Springs have filed an appeal to the Third Court of Appeals regarding the Texas District Court’s decision to reverse the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“TPDES”) wastewater treatment permit. The TPDES permit was issued by TCEQ to allow Dripping Springs to begin the much-needed expansion of its treatment plant and address the area’s growing wastewater needs. However, in late October, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th Texas District Court reversed that permit.

The original permit was granted by TCEQ following an evidentiary hearing and a lengthy legal process, when a judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) concluded that the permit met the applicable Texas Surface Water Quality Standards and the notice requirements. The commissioners of TCEQ agreed with the SOAH judge and issued the permit.

However, SOS filed a lawsuit against TCEQ claiming the permit violated a subset of Texas’ water quality standards that apply to Onion Creek. Gamble reversed TCEQ’s order, stating that the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards were not satisfied (relying primarily on an interpretation of federal law) and that notice was deficient.

Now, the city and the TCEQ are appealing that district court decision to the Third Court of Appeals. On appeal, the city says it will show, among other things, that the evidence presented at SOAH by qualified expert witnesses clearly: showed compliance with the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards; established that the environment would be protected; and showed that notice was sufficient. Under the standard of review applicable to this case, the city asserts that the TCEQ order should not have been reversed.

“As I mentioned when we heard the news of the District Court’s decision, we are confident in our ability to move forward,” said Dripping Springs Mayor Bill Foulds, Jr. “We are confident that our appeal to the Third Court of Appeals will confirm that the city is doing everything in its power to accommodate the wastewater needs of our growing community in the most environmentally sensitive manner possible, and that our permit will stand.”
The city says it has taken great effort in negotiating contracts with developers who will take the treated effluent and reuse that water to irrigate green spaces instead of using potable water or ground water as an irrigation source.

“Dripping Springs and our efforts could be used as a model for other communities,” the mayor said. “Instead, SOS refuses to acknowledge our efforts to do the right thing. Rather than get behind us and encourage other permit applicants within the state to make the same efforts Dripping Springs is making, it is fighting us and forcing us to spend unnecessary and additional tax dollars to obtain and defend our permit.”

The appeal process to the Third Court of Appeals is expected to take between 6 months to a year.

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