Rep. Leibowitz Files Bill to Prohibit Discharge of Sewage Effluent into Edwards Aquifer Waterways

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“I filed H.B. 595 because the 1.7 million Texans whose source of drinking water is the Edwards Aquifer should not have to worry about treated sewage contaminating their water,” said Leibowitz. “In 2007, the Helotes debris fire contaminated wells near the aquifer when water was applied to the fire for just a few short days. Now, there’s a proposal to pour up to 1 million gallons of treated sewage each day into a creek that directly feeds the Edwards Aquifer. That’s just unacceptable.”

The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, the Alamo Soil and Conservation District, the cities of San Antonio and Austin, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, and many others have voiced support for legislation that would prohibit the practice of releasing treated sewage effluent into waterways that recharge the Edwards Aquifer.

Scientists opposed to this practice cite concerns about the inevitable process of eutrophication – an excess of nutrients, such as phosphorus, that ends up in creeks, producing an increase of microorganisms and algae and depressing oxygen. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the Edwards Aquifer, as several creeks and streams within the Onion Creek and Barton Creek watersheds (specifically Onion and Barton) and the San Antonio segment (San Geronimo, Helotes, Leon and others) feed the Aquifer.

In December 2008, TCEQ approved a permit for wastewater discharge from the Belterra subdivision in Hays County that allowed discharge of treated effluent from the subdivision into Bear Creek, a tributary of Onion Creek that recharges the Barton Spring segment of the Edwards. The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and local governments opposed the permit and requested that TCEQ rules be changed to prohibit this practice, believing that it would result in degradation of the Aquifer. Despite the fact that the political jurisdictions that cover more than 95% of the affected watersheds supported the rules change, and despite nearly two years’ worth of data, modeling, and analysis in the Belterra case, commissioners sided with the applicant and voted down the change, with one commissioner suggesting the matter would best be addressed by the Legislature.

A pending application by Baruch Properties for the Hills of Castle Rock subdivision proposes to release treated effluent into the San Geronimo Creek, a prolific Edwards Aquifer recharge creek. The San Geronimo Valley Alliance and landowners who still draw water from the San Geronimo have united to oppose the permit. “What about my property rights?” says Randy Johnson, President of the San Geronimo Valley Alliance, whose ranch is directly downstream of the proposed subdivision. “Discharging sewage into the San Geronimo could pollute this pristine Edwards recharge creek, making it unfit for swimming, drinking, or any use to me.”

A similar bill, H.B. 3039, was filed last session by Representative Patrick Rose to prohibit discharge of sewage effluent in Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone. The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee, where it was left pending in committee. H.B. 595 differs from 2007 H.B. 3039 in that it includes the San Antonio segment of the Edwards Aquifer and is more specific in the language to assure that only discharge of treated sewage effluent is prohibited.

Annalisa Peace, Executive Director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance notes, “Supplies of fresh water are at a premium worldwide. Yet we here in Texas still allow projects that threaten to pollute our groundwater. Citizens in twenty-one counties have asked the Texas Legislature to prohibit the release of treated sewage effluent into creeks that recharge the Edwards Aquifer. We will be working very hard to get H.B. 595 passed during this session. This filthy practice has got to stop before it becomes widespread.”

Kirk Holland, General Manager of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, further noted that, “This bill isn’t for or against residential development per se, it simply prohibits development that proposes to discharge residential wastewater directly to creeks that recharge a sole-source aquifer, rather than using land application of such treated wastewaters, as is successfully done throughout the Hill Country. This bill represents a sound public policy to foster more assured re-use of that water for local land irrigation that is required anyway, and to require the risks be borne and managed by the folks who produce the pollutants, rather than those many users downstream.”

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GEAA Enlists Your Help with Warbler Watch Program

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To help implement the proposed “Warbler Watch” program for the Texas Hill Country, GEAA recently established a partnership with Texas A&M University (TAMU) researchers.

The goal of this collaborative program is to develop and implement a long-term and sustainable monitoring program, which will determine trends in distribution, abundance, habitat use, and breeding success of the GCWA across its breeding range. We propose to integrate with and expand upon comprehensive GCWA studies initiated by TAMU in 2003, which were enlarged to include a range-wide monitoring program during 2008. GEAA would help recruit volunteers and landowners, and distribute related educational materials to a broad public, while TAMU would manage the database, train volunteers, coordinate land access, and publish research results. Because TAMU is a State agency, there is no legal requirement for precise monitoring locations to be publicly available. TAMU is not divulging information gathered to any Federal or State agency, including US Fish and Wildlife, protecting participating landowners from regulatory actions.

Birding checklist data will be gathered by either TAMU researchers or trained volunteers at long-term sampling locations during the GCWA breeding season. A major advantage of the proposed linkage between TAMU researchers and local residents is increased communication among varied groups seeking understanding to promote sustainability through conservation. Local communities will share not only field monitoring tasks and important data, but also a sense of common purpose, with university students and researchers.

Please let me know if you may want to assist with this collaborative effort. We have much of the funding covered, but not all – for our work and TAMU’s work. At this time, we particularly need your help to identify properties available for TAMU to establish additional monitoring sites.

We plan a significant field effort this nesting season which starts mid March, so the sooner we may connect the better. Thanks, Tom

Tom D. Hayes, Ph.D.
Science Director
Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance
www.aquiferalliance.org

512.477.2320
tom@aquiferalliance.org

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Hills of Castle Rock Development Settlement Reached

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GEAA and San Geronimo Valley Alliance (SGVA) are very pleased to announce that a settlement agreement has been finalized between SGVA and BP Properties, Ltd. regarding the proposed Hills of Castle Rock development located ten miles northwest of Helotes.

The Hills of Castle Rock’s application for a permit to release wastewater effluent into the San Geronimo Creek, a major conduit of recharge to the Edwards Aquifer, inspired State Representative David Leibowitz to file HB 595 (State Senator Leticia Van de Putte filed companion SB 822) to prohibit this practice. Under the terms of the agreement, no effluent will be released into the San Geronimo Creek and impervious cover is limited to 15%.

Annalisa Peace
Executive Director
Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance
210-320-6294
www.aquiferalliance.org
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Contacts: Doug McNeel, SGVA 210-225-1655 / 210-695-9765
Randy Johnson, President, SGVA 830-510-4802
Annalisa Peace, GEAA 210-275-9336
February 19, 2010

Request for Coverage

San Geronimo Valley Alliance (“SGVA”) is pleased to announce that a settlement agreement has been finalized between SGVA and the developer of the proposed Hills of Castle Rock development located ten miles northwest of Helotes.

SGVA is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rural ambience and environmental integrity of the San Geronimo Valley area which includes portions of northwest Bexar County, northeast Medina County and southeastern Bandera County. For more than three years SGVA, under the leadership of President Randy Johnson, has been working to oppose the initial Hills of Castle Rock development proposal which called for a high density development in a sensitive rural area within the contributing zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The initial plans for the 1766 acre development proposed by the developer, BP Real Estate Investments, Ltd. and its affiliate BP 1766 San Antonio, Ltd., included proposals for the construction of 3,500 homes, an elementary school, a fourteen story hotel, commercial development, the withdrawal of 1724 acre-feet of water per year from the Trinity Aquifer, and a sewage treatment plant that would dump treated sewage effluent into the San Geronimo Creek.

In addition to concerns regarding aesthetics, traffic congestion, leapfrog development, the vulnerability of the Trinity Aquifer to excessive pumping, and the water quality of the San Geronimo Creek and area water wells, SGVA has been concerned about the potential threat posed by the development to the purity of the Edwards Aquifer. Given that the San Geronimo Creek contributes a significant amount of annual recharge to the Edwards Aquifer (Veni, 2004), SGVA felt that it was especially important that the water quality of the San Geronimo Creek be protected from the degradation threatened by this development.

To combat these threats SGVA intervened in proceedings pertaining to this development before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) and the Medina County Groundwater Conservation District (“MCGCD”). SGVA was joined in the TCEQ case by the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Water System (“SAWS”) which also opposed the granting by TCEQ of a wastewater discharge permit to the developer. In addition the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance under the energetic leadership of Annalisa Peace provided invaluable assistance and financial support in carrying this fight forward.

SGVA is delighted that the efforts of all of those who worked for the protection of the San Geronimo Valley and the water resources enjoyed by the residents of the greater metropolitan San Antonio area have finally borne fruit. The settlement agreement, effective as of February 8, includes the following safeguards:

(1) Dismissal with prejudice of developer’s application before TCEQ for a wastewater discharge permit and the agreement that no sewage treatment plant will be constructed in connection with the development property;

(2) Development of the property shall be restricted to single-family residences with the exception of a neighborhood amenity center and appurtenances;

(3) The density of the development shall be limited to 550 homes with the average minimum lot size being no less than 3.0 acres and the absolute minimum lot size being no less than 1.1 acres;

(4) The development shall include a minimum of 700 acres of greenspace;

(5) A 40 foot greenspace buffer shall be maintained around the perimeter of the development property;

(6) Impervious cover shall be limited to no more than 15%;

(7) The developer shall amend its application before MCGCD for a water withdrawal permit reducing the requested water allocation from 1724 acre-feet per year to 425 acre-feet per year;

(8) In the event that SAWS extends a water line to the development property, the MCGCD water withdrawal application or permit shall be amended to reduce the permitted water allocation to 25 acre-feet per year.

(9) The sale or transfer of groundwater from the development property is prohibited.

(10) Various architectural requirements for homes constructed on the development property have been agreed upon including the requirement that external lighting will utilize dark sky lighting fixtures.

A copy of the full settlement agreement and pertinent exhibits may be accessed at the following online link:

Read the settlement agreement here!

SGVA is deeply grateful for the able assistance it received from its attorneys in reaching this outcome: Eric Allmon, Rick Lowerre and David Frederick of the Austin law firm of Lowerre, Frederick, Perales, Allmon & Rockwell and Douglas McNeel of the San Antonio law firm of Barton, East & Caldwell, LLP. SGVA also owes a special debt of gratitude to all of its members and supporters for their contributions to this result and to Annalisa Peace and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, who have worked tirelessly for the protection of the Edwards Aquifer.

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