Dripping Springs wastewater discharge permit causes community, EPA concern

Since 2016 environmental groups have voiced their opposition to the city of Dripping Springs' proposal to dump wastewater effluent into Onion Creek.

Since 2016 environmental groups have voiced their opposition to the city of Dripping Springs' proposal to dump wastewater effluent into Onion Creek.

The Environmental Protection Agency has raised concerns about the city of Dripping Springs’ draft permit for direct discharge of wastewater into Onion Creek.


Local organization Protect Our Water petitioned the EPA in September to review the draft permit, POW board member Richard Beggs said. 


The city of Dripping Springs and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality heard dozens of north Hays County community members speak last November against the draft permit, issued by the state last September, that could allow the city to discharge up to 995,000 gallons of wastewater into Onion Creek every day.


The EPA objects to the discharge because the TCEQ inadequately analyzed the draft permit, Beggs said in December.


“We think [the EPA’s comments are] very significant, but we were very concerned because we don’t think the state of Texas is following the law,” he said. “There’s delegated authority that EPA gives to the states, and when [the states] are not doing their job, it’s [a problem]. What’s just so incredible about this is a bunch of citizens just had to appeal to the federal government, and we’re really thankful that they’ve responded.”


Ginger Faught, Dripping Springs deputy city administrator, said the city anticipated the EPA would have comments on the permit.


The author of the EPA letter, Richard Wooster, acting associate director for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems and Total Maximum Daily Loads branch, stated he is unclear how the permit conforms to the Clean Water Act, which established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into U.S. waters.


In his letter, he stated the EPA cannot discern from the information provided what factors TCEQ considered in its determination of no significant degradation and whether the state’s analysis complied with TCEQ’s anti-degradation policy and implementation procedures. Wooster asked for more information regarding the state’s Tier 2 analysis for the discharge, which regulates water quality.


City Attorney Andy Barrett said the city remains committed to not discharging. Instead, due to the TCEQ application process, Barrett said the city had to first apply for a discharge permit before it can apply for reuse permits.


On Jan. 31, the city of Dripping Springs released a statement claiming that preliminary findings of the proposed reuse program, conducted by the city of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, stated that it meets the criteria by which the city of Austin “evaluated potential impacts on the quality of water in Onion Creek.”

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