By Kathi Bliss
Growing pains come in all shapes and sizes as development comes to Caldwell County.
Currently, while some developments such as Cherryville struggle to determine where they will find the water they need to support their project, others are working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to determine what to do with their water, after they have used it.
And the neighbors are not happy.
A recent permit request made to TCEQ by the Walton Development suggests a water treatment plant that will add up to 1.5 million gallons of “treated effluent” to Clear Fork/Plum Creek. The plant, which will provide water treatment for Walton’s massive planned development in the Uhland area, is proposed to be located between Maxwell and Lockhart, near the intersection of CR 229 (Misty Lane) and CR 230 (Jolly Road).
Notices published in the Lockhart Post-Register in May prompted some neighbors to file with TCEQ for a requested hearing, citing concerns about the natural springs, creek flow, and impact to indigenous waterfowl in the area, but that request was denied last week as TCEQ Executive Director Zac Covar issued a sweeping opinion through his Chief Clerk suggesting the impact to the area would be well within the standards set out by TCEQ within state law.
“Effluent discharged into water in the state from facilities regulated under the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) is required o meet the requirements of the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards (TSWQS),” the opinion stated in response to concerns that the plant would impact the clean water source for domestic and migratory fowl. “The TSWQS were promulgated to protect human health, aquatic life and the environment…”
While that may be true on its face, concerns were raised by residents and organizations including the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership that pointed to failures at a similar plant in Kyle in recent years.
“We aren’t against development, but we want to make sure that the development is done responsibly and with the least impact possible,” said Nick Dornak, the coordinator of the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership. “There have been two spills in Kyle in recent years, and that’s always a danger.”
Last year, a failure at the Kyle treatment plant operated by Aquasource dumped thousands of gallons of partially-treated effluent into Plum Creek, triggering an investigation and fines against the plant from TCEQ.
Routine monitoring of the facility by the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership found the spill, and was ultimately responsible for making the report.
“Aquasource did ultimately report it, but by then it was a solid mass [of sludge] a half-mile downstream,” Dornak recently told reporters from the Hays Free Press.
Neighbors are concerned the same thing could happen at the Walton treatment plant.
“[In addition…] the treated effluent will bring fertilizer pollutants from surrounding farmlands along with the discharged pollutants in the effluent, that will damage the water quality in Clear Fork Plum Creek downstream of US Highway 142, which is primarily spring-fed,” the complaint and request for hearing filed in June said.
Covar once again responded that the treated effluent is not expected to be hazardous to livestock using water downstream, because the effluent limits are designed to protect aquatic life, human health and the environment.
Dornak said his organization is continuing to work with TCEQ and executives from Walton, along with the City of Uhland, to make sure that the project truly is done safely, with as little impact on the environment as possible.
Still, he said, changes to the environment are inevitable.
“It ultimately depends on how you define ‘significant impact,’” he said. “TCEQ has a formula that they use statewide when measuring water levels and environmental impact, and they issue permits based on that formula.”
Regardless, adding millions of gallons of water to the existing ecosystem will have an impact, not only on creekbeds but on the wildlife and property owners in the bordering areas.
What that impact will be, is anyone’s guess.
“It’s probably a few years up the road,” Dornak said of the proposed completion and activation of the plant. “We will continue to engage with them and try to get them to have as little impact as possible on the water quality.”
Property owners who believe they will be “affected persons*,” as defined by TCEQ, may still request a contested case hearing. For information or to request a contested case hearing, visit www.tceq.texas.gov/about/comments.htm. Requests must be made before the close of business on Sept. 18, 2013
* An “affected person” is defined as “one who has a personal justiciable interest related to a legal right, duty, privilege, power, or economic interest affected by the application.”