DRIPPING SPRINGS, TX (KXAN) — The Randy Rogers Band is known for many a good Texas Country/Americana songs. One such song, ‘They Call It The Hill Country,’ laments the ever-coming development of the one-of-a-kind landscape that’s found west and southwest of Austin.
One line in particular of the song goes, “Uncivilized pagans drank untreated water right out of our rivers back in their day. Now those streams bubble with clean treated sewage, while they sit in their hot tubs and they sip Perrier.”
While no one can deny the crisp, fresh feeling mineral water gives you, officials in one Hill Country town, Dripping Springs, are denying what’s being perceived on social media about them and what they not doing.
“We have not discharged anything, anywhere, into any creek. We have a permit right now that allows us to do land irrigation where it’s sprayed on the land, but thats just going on basically hay fields,” states Bill Foulds, Mayor Pro-Tem for the City of Dripping Springs.
Foulds is discussing the okay of an application for a permit by Dripping Springs to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to discharge more than 800,000 gallons of treated waste water. The concern in years prior from environmental groups and the like was that the city was going to dump the wastewater into Onion Creek, a nearby creek that boasts crystal clear water.
“We don’t see it as having to put anything in Onion Creek and we never have. When you have a discharge permit, it’s much easier to to do what’s called beneficial reuse, and that’s what we’ve said all along and that’s what we want to do,” says Foulds.
Foulds says the permit itself allows the city to better collect and distribute the treated wastewater to places like city parks, golf courses and other places — and not Onion Creek.
In other words, Dripping has the okay to discharge the stuff in the creeks, but says it won’t do it and has no plans to do so.
“Mostly misinformation is coming out, it gets twisted. Social media has made it very difficult to stay ahead of the curve,” adds Foulds.
The need for the permit also allows for the building of infrastructure that will better collect the wastewater and treat it. Dripping Springs and its governing county, Hays, is one of the fastest growing places in the United States. The city says it has to do all it legally can to keep up with the growth. Applying for a permit to discharge allows it do so, says Foulds.
“We want to do it right. What we have done is set up a way to move forward with other cities so they can see that it is possible to do this without damaging the environment.”
However, there are no rules that prevent the discharge of wastewater into creeks and streams.
According to Annalisa Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, dumping treated wastewater in rivers and creeks in Texas is common.
“The flow of most of our rivers allows for safe discharge,” says Peace.
But with the Hill Country, it’s gets complicated.
Most of the rivers and streams that are in the Hill Country are on top of the Edwards Aquifer and the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone — a massive swath of land that stretches from north of Austin, to San Antonio, all the way west to Bracketteville, about 35 miles from the Rio Grande.
The Blanco River, which runs a few miles south of Dripping Springs, is one such river that recharges the aquifer, and the aquifer is where many people get their drinking water — including well owners, and the entire city of San Antonio, population: almost two million and growing.
So, when cities like Dripping Springs get the okay to discharge treated wastewater, it gets the attention of Peace and the Alliance.
“These permits are going in all over. The nitrates and the phosphorus — which are allowable under the state permitting process — but they contribute to algae blooms. Unmetabolized drugs or personal care products, those things that would be in the wastewater stream,” states Peace.
Peace adds that studies have shown that what ends up in the Blanco River, for example, can end up in places like Barton Springs, where many Austinites cool off in the summer. Worse yet, discharge could end up in drinking water that comes from the Edwards Aquifer.
“So, in essence what you are doing is recharging the aquifer with water that has not been treated to drinking water standards,” says Peace.
Dripping Springs is not going to discharge anything into any rivers, but other cities are have plans do something about their wastewater. Cities like Blanco, Texas and Wimberley have discussed and considered taking action to address the growing need to do something about their wastewater.
“For the state to just allow them to do a permit to discharge is problematic and we’d really like to see those rules changed at TCEQ,” says Peace.
According to Peace, in the previous state legislative session, there were three bills that had language that protected rivers and streams in the Hill Country. All three bills never made it to the governors desk.
This session, there is only one bill in the works in the capital dome. However, that bill, according to Peace, is designed to protect one river: the Nueces River, in south Texas.
“We’re kind of putting in peril the whole Hill Country.”