Wastewater from Dripping Springs could flow into Austin's watershed by as soon as next year.
After years of back-and-forth, city officials say they expect the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve a permit from Dripping Springs to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek next month, paving the way for the City of Dripping Springs to begin diverting runoff after the new year.
That comes after a state judge said the city could feasibly dump up to 882,500 gallons of treated wastewater a day into Onion Creek, while still meeting state water quality standards.
The City of Dripping Springs says it needs to divert the water to maintain services in the face of rapid residential and commercial growth.
"The city’s application has been thoroughly researched and vetted. We believe this is the best path forward from both an environmental and fiscal perspective," said Dripping Springs Deputy City Administrator Ginger Faught. "The city has done its homework and feels incredibly confident in our plan."
According to the City of Austin memo, if approved, the discharge will "be the first ‘unrestricted’ discharge permit in the contributing zone of the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer."
That could degrade water quality in Onion Creek and nearby aquifers, and city officials and environmental advocates have argued that the wastewater could show up downstream – namely, in Barton Creek and Barton Springs Pool, which gets more water from Onion Creek than any other source.
Since 2013, the City of Austin, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Lower Colorado River Authority and downstream landowners made unsuccessful attempts to persuade Dripping Springs officials to consider alternative plans.
But, earlier this year, those groups, along with the Save Barton Creek Association, negotiated a tentative deal with Dripping Springs.
Now, the TCEQ will decide whether the permit will be finalized. The City of Austin expects it "will likely be approved" early next year. But Chris Herrington, interim environmental officer for Austin's Watershed Protection Department, says a TCEQ deal would likely leave both sides wanting.
"Unfortunately, there’s no assurances or certainty in permitting for folks who need to manage growth and treat wastewater," says Christopher Herrington, interim environmental officer for Austin's Watershed Protection Department. "Similarly, there’s no certainty in protecting the water quality of our Hill Country creeks and aquifers for those like the City of Austin."