Have you heard that the City of Dripping Springs is seeking a permit that would allow it to discharge 995,000 gallons of wastewater effluent per day into Onion Creek? If that concerns you or makes you wonder what the City is doing or why, we hope you will ask questions before deciding that the City is out to hurt the environment.
Here are some facts everyone should know:
1. Dripping Springs currently has a land application permit that allows for the processing of 348,000 gallons of wastewater per day. Under a land application permit, wastewater effluent is distributed onto fields acquired by the City for the purpose of irrigation. At the present time, most of the capacity under the existing permit is committed to development that has arrived or is coming to our area. The City needs increased capacity because the ability to provide wastewater service is a significant tool towards managing growth in our area.
2. Texas law allows only for two kinds of permits for the disposal of wastewater effluent –a land application permit or a discharge permit. The high cost of hill country land and of installation of irrigation systems, particularly subsurface irrigation systems, on that land makes an expanded land application permit unworkable for the City. A discharge permit is the only viable option for the needed capacity.
3. Even if a land application permit were a viable option, an expanded land application permit would be a waste of the City’s wastewater effluent and financial resources. The City wants to pursue beneficial reuse, meaning it wants to use the effluent to irrigate land that would otherwise be watered with groundwater. Under the law, if the City sought an expanded land application permit, it would have to acquire land application fields and install irrigation infrastructure on those fields even if the City intended to pursue beneficial reuse rather than irrigate the land application fields. By obtaining a discharge permit, the City can both irrigate parks, medians, and other public spaces that would otherwise be watered with groundwater and avoid the land and infrastructure costs associated with a land application permit.
4. Although the City could obtain a discharge permit and just discharge, the City’s plan from when it filed its discharge permit application was to help preserve the water supply by pursuing beneficial reuse of the wastewater effluent. Dripping Springs seeks, not to discharge, but to be a model for beneficial reuse.
5. In 2016, Dripping Springs passed an ordinance requiring developers to participate in our beneficial reuse program. To date, the City has contracts for approximately 500,000 gallons of effluent per day and continues to pursue additional contracts. Given the expected demand for reuse water, Dripping Springs may not need to discharge at any time.
6. Dripping Springs gave up the unfettered ability to discharge 995,000 gallons per day without penalty when it entered into a settlement agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority (“LCRA”), the entity charged with protecting Onion Creek. That agreement limits when discharge can occur and penalizes the City in the event of any avoidable discharge.
7. Under the LCRA agreement, Dripping Springs also has agreed to assure 199 acres of land that will beneficially reuse water and to provide 12 million gallons of storage. That amount of reuse land and storage would reduce the likelihood that discharge would occur.
8. In December of 2017, the City Council voted to approve a settlement negotiated with and supported by the City of Austin staff. In that agreement, Dripping Springs offered to provide another 12 million gallons of storage, which, together with the storage required by the LCRA agreement, would amount to a total of 24 days of storage. That much storage would further reduce the likelihood that discharge would occur and could eliminate the need for discharge.
9. The City remains willing to reach settlements with those who oppose the discharge permit application. The Austin City Council did not even vote on the proposed settlement agreement that was negotiated and recommended by its staff. However, the City continues in its efforts to reach agreements with the City of Austin and others.
10. A discharge permit would not allow for the discharge of sewage into Onion Creek. Under the law, only treated wastewater can be discharged. Discharge of sewage, which is untreated wastewater, would be illegal under any kind of permit.
The City is trying to do the right thing to manage growth in this area. A discharge permit may not, at first blush, sound palatable to some. But we hope that with accurate and thorough information, our residents and those in the surrounding area will see the City is making every effort, within the bounds of the law, to be a good steward of the available financial and environmental resources.
– Bill Foulds, Mayor Pro Tem and Taline Manassian, Council Member