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Dripping Springs Onion Creek WWTP and the DSWSC vs. the local aquifer and concerned residents

By Susan Cook.

The Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation (DSWSC) is trying to force the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD)to grant a new permit that would over double their current pumping limits, despite their current usuage being a fraction of that requested amount.

The Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation (DSWSC) ambushed the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) last month, demanding over twice as much water as they are permitted now, and many times over what they are actually using.

The HTGCD had offered them a graduated permit increase over the next three years, using figures based on current usage patterns, taking into account the ability of the aquifer to still provide water to current well owners, while accommodating new homes and businesses. The DSWSC refused to accept those figures and filed a contested case against the District, demanding to be allowed to pump all they want.

The DSWSC does not appear to understand, or care, that their significant permit increase might negatively affect nearby wells. They were only interested in getting rights to pump water the City of Dripping Springs’ growth is pushing them to acquire for future residents, by some estimates equal to the number of households in the City of San Marcos.

To make matters even worse, the City of Dripping Springs has received preliminary permission from the TCEQ to build a million gallon/day wastewater discharge plant that threatens to pollute not only Onion Creek, but the wells owned by DSWSC, along with other nearby wells.

Where does this leave the rest of us whose lives and livelihoods depend on the Trinity Aquifer?

Attorneys working for the DSWSC essentially attempted to blackmail the local groundwater district, threatening to bankrupt the organization with lawsuits if they do not give them permission to pump all the water they want, water they plan to use to supply all those new suburban communities the City of Dripping Springs has been platting and permitting over the past few years.

At the August 17th meeting of the HTGCD, it was mentioned that in the future, the DSWSC may turn to water piped from the eastside of I-35, from a neighboring aquifer, to supply this growth, which made me wonder if they even cared whether the Trinity Aquifer remained at sustainable levels into the distant future. Seemed like they had already acknowledged, at least privately, that they planned to use this local resource until it played out, then move onto use the water beneath Bastrop, Caldwell, Lee and Burleson Counties, next.

Their attitude seemed to be Growth At Any Cost: Cost to the people who live here now, cost to the environment, to the water levels in the aquifer, to the people living along Onion Creek and to those who depend on their Trinity wells. Why should our lives be ruined so that the City of Dripping Springs and their development business partners profit at our expense? 

Our lives here in Hays County: Priceless.

Austin’s Growth Machine is steadily moving West and South, just as it moved North in years past, blanketing the outskirts of town in a sea of suburban growth. The unrelenting growth coming out of Austin is like a tsunami, and anyone or anything in its way is in danger of being swept aside.

Over the past 20 years or more, the City of Dripping Springs has colluded with the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation to invite massive suburban-style growth into the City’s oversized ETJ, an area that is controlled by the City, whose subdivisions are granted and permitted by the City, but whose residents have zero voice in those plans and projects. They cannot vote in local elections for Mayor and Council, but are bound by the decisions made by those elected officials and the committees appointed by them.

This oversized influence the City of DS has over its neighbors has reached a tipping point for area residents in the past few months, as the City of Dripping Springs has now been granted a Draft Permit by the TCEQ to build a wastewater treatment plant whose sewage effluent would be discharged into Onion Creek, at the new Caliterra subdivision just south of Dripping Springs, to the tune of a million gallons a day. For a creek that sometimes has little or no flow at all, this would be a disaster, not to mention that this stretch of Onion Creek has been shown to have numerous gain/loss features: places along the streambed where the water “disappears” and likely ends up in the Trinity Aquifer. This aquifer is the source of water for not only thousands of local residents’ domestic wells, but for the several larger wells owned and operated by the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation.

Most people assume that water discharged into streams and rivers, lakes and oceans, is cleaned up before being discharged, and to a degree, it is. But, plenty of nitrates and phosphorous are left in this water, and this feeds the familiar green slime (algae) we see in many streams, throughout Texas and beyond. Wastewater regulations are just not that stringent. In addition to the usual contents of human waste, wastewater effluent still contains all the pharmaceutical drugs, household cleaning products, shampoos, conditioners, beauty products, pesticides, herbicides, drain cleaners, microplastics and a wide variety of other things we use in our daily lives, or consume, and those substances end up in our wastewater.

These substances are simply not removed by typical wastewater treatment, except sometimes by accident, so they end up being discharged into receiving waterways, which in our fractured limestone geology here in Central Texas, can easily wind up in the aquifer, and in our wells…into our bodies, without our permission, without our consent.

The discharge pipe from Dripping Springs’ new wastewater plant is going to be located UPSTREAM of the DSWSC’s own wells. Yes, upstream of their wells, in a section of Onion Creek that hydrologic research indicates is a “loss” area, meaning that water goes down through the gravel, or straight in through sinkholes, right into the Trinity Aquifer. All those remaining nitrates, phosphorous and those household and commercial contaminants go straight into our shared aquifer, straight into our wells, into our drinking water. Thank you Dripping Springs, but we would rather not drink your sewage effluent.

All of this is part of the tidal wave of suburban growth that is marching across the rolling hills west and south of Austin, growth pushed on us by the mega housing corporations like Scott Felder Homes, DR Horton, David Weekley Homes and many others, who see our open lands and hills as little more than a canvas to be painted with more and more houses.

Austin’s uncontrolled growth paradigm is spilling over into every small town surrounding it, and has been for years. Round Rock, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Liberty Hill, Kyle and Buda are seeing their populations rise, along with increases in crime, higher property taxes, pressures to build infrastructure and to provide water to these new residents.

People living in these small towns are being expected to foot the bill for all this new growth, growth many of them would rather was not happening, growth that does not benefit them in any way, but threatens to drain their aquifers, pave over their lands and destroy the rural and small town character of these communities.

Communities and agricultural enterprises that have thrived in Central Texas for centuries are being replaced by sprawl that does not provide anything but houses: no jobs, no retail, no place to work or buy anything other than groceries or gasoline. And these new residents, none of them work nearby, so these new suburban communities demand larger road networks so they can get back into Austin to work and to shop.

One cannot help but wonder: Who benefits from all this growth and whose lives, lands and water are going to be harmed?

Susan Cook

Driftwood, Texas

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