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Dripping Springs Seeks Settlement In Wastewater Discharge Fight

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Property owners near Onion Creek are opposed to a Dripping Springs plan to dump wastewater there.

Dripping Springs wants to be able to discharge treated wastewater into Onion Creek, but that's rubbed a lot of people downstream the wrong way. Now, city officials say, there may be a compromise on the table.

Groups and property owners located downstream had taken the fight to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which will ultimately decide whether to grant the city a permit. As the case pends, Dripping Springs says it's working on a settlement with many of its opponents that would allow the permit to go through, but limit the city’s ability to discharge waste.

Bill Foulds, Dripping Springs mayor pro tem, said he can’t go into details about a settlement, but in a general sense, he said, it would allow "for discharge in very limited situations." If the city were to discharge more, it would need to come up with a plan to make sure it doesn't continue to happen.

One complication, he said, is that the Save Our Springs Alliance, an Austin-based environmental group, has refused to negotiate.

Kelly Davis, a staff attorney with Save Our Springs, said the group might consider a settlement, but right now it wants to gather more information.

“In our experience that can help parties come to the table and more easily reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” she said.

But not participating in negotiations comes with risks.

“These contested case hearings are extremely long and expensive and they have an incredibly uncertain outcome,” said Chris Harrington, an engineer with the City of Austin. The city has long opposed Dripping Springs' wastewater plan, but was not part of the legal challenge.

“So a settlement agreement could provide surety or at least some level of surety in protecting the water resources from this potential permit action,” he said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is expected to make its decision on the permit in November.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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