For Immediate Release
September 21, 2016
CONTACT: Stuart Henry, Attorney for POW, 512-858-0385, firstname.lastname@example.org; Rich Beggs, POW Director, 512-299-3442, email@example.com.
Protect Our Water (POW) seeks Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review of and objection to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) proposed draft permit allowing the City of Dripping Springs to discharge 995,000 gallons per day of treated wastewater effluent into a tributary of Onion Creek in Hays County, Texas. See attached letter with photographs.
POW Attorney Stuart Henry explained that “Because TCEQ failed to require Dripping Springs to show why lowering water quality in Onion Creek is necessary for important economic or social development, as required under the law, we wrote to the EPA and asked them to take a look and object if TCEQ is not applying the law.” POW’s letter lays out for EPA how TCEQ is avoiding regulations that apply when a proposed discharge would lower water quality in a high-quality receiving water (known in the rules as a Tier 2 Antidegradation review). Further, TCEQ proposes to permit the discharge even though existing and attainable uses of Onion Creek will not be maintained.
Under TCEQ rules and the Clean Water Act, evaluation of the proposed discharge must consider the balance between Dripping Springs’ desire to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek as against the significant interests that rely upon and use the creek. Currently Onion Creek has excellent quality with respect to nutrients, dissolved oxygen and the absence of algae. Onion Creek downstream of the discharge is clear water used for swimming, fishing and kayaking. Dripping Springs Water Supply Company utilizes groundwater wells near Onion Creek, which are fed by Onion Creek, in order to supply potable water to numerous area residences. Many local residents have private wells that utilize the local groundwater and also likely recharged by Onion Creek. Onion Creek is a major source of recharges to the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs, which is habitat for federally-listed endangered species: the Barton Springs salamander (Eurycea sosorum); and the Austin Blind Salamander (Eurycea waterlooensis). Barton Springs is also a critical recreational and economic resource of the City of Austin. Because the proposed discharge lowers the water quality, this all must be weighed against any benefits of the discharge.
POW Member Wes Pitts explains “We don’t take this action of petitioning to EPA lightly, but we felt we had to do it because TCEQ is not carrying out the law in reviewing Dripping Springs’ proposed permit. We just want to see the law followed, and all the uses of the creek and its high water quality taken into consideration.” Water quality modeling of the proposed discharge shows that increased nutrients in the wastewater effluent will change Onion Creek from an oligotrophic to mesotrophic state – which means additional growth of algae, most likely in long strings of Cladophora algae, well-known to be associated with high-nutrient wastewater effluent discharges.
Increased algae will impede swimming and recreational use, occludes the currently clean river rock, and compromises the clarity of the water. Excessive nutrients and algae can impair endangered species habitat and affect the quality of groundwater for drinking. Texas’ Water Quality Standards provide that “No activities subject to regulatory action that would cause degradation of waters that exceed fishable/swimmable quality are allowed unless it can be shown to the commission’s satisfaction that the lowering of water quality is necessary for important economic or social development.” The purpose of a Tier 2 Antidegradation review is to provide a wholistic consideration of whether degradation of water quality is necessary in light of the impacts of that degradation.
Instead of requiring Dripping Springs to show why lowering water quality is necessary, TCEQ used an exception to the rule, claiming that the proposed discharge would not cause a greater than de minimis impact on water quality. According to POW Attorney Stuart Henry, since obtaining delegated authority over permitting wastewater discharges in 1998, TCEQ has never found that any discharge would cause greater than a de minimis impact. Henry explains “TCEQ didn’t do the proper Tier 2 review, I don’t know why because it clearly applies and if TCEQ won’t follow the law we need to let EPA know that and ask them to step in.” TCEQ’s review of Dripping Springs’ proposed discharge is deficient in several additional respects, including that “the Applicant’s own modeling results show that the uses of impacted streams will not be protected” and thus issuance of the permit would fail to protect existing and attainable uses (EPA letter p. 8); and that TCEQ has not performed an adequate review of the impact on endangered species. (EPA letter p. 11).
POW expects that EPA will review the proposed discharge itself and ensure that Texas’ regulations implementing the Clean Water Act are followed by TCEQ.
POW is a citizen’s group organized to protect Onion Creek and local wells from pollution. For more information, see www.protectourwaternow.org.
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