Endangered Barton Springs salamander found near Dripping Springs’ proposed wastewater discharge point in Onion Creek

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The presence of a federally endangered species has recently been discovered near the wastewater discharge point proposed by the city of Dripping Springs.

An ongoing study by the Austin Watershed Department to monitor the Barton Springs salamander resulted in this finding, however, supervising engineering Chris Herrington was unable to say when exactly the species was first discovered outside of its known habitat.

“It is a new scientific discovery,” Herrington said. “Previously it [the salamanders]was thought to only be within Zilker Park. New monitoring shows there are populations of the salamanders further out into the [Edwards Aquifer] contributing zone, including in the vicinity of the proposed [wastewater]discharge [location].”

Board member Richard Beggs said Protect Our Water has filed a notice with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of intent to sue for enforcement of the Clean Water Act. In February 2017, the agency confirmed the impact the permit would have on three federally listed endangered species, including the Barton Springs salamander, and asked the Environmental Protection Agency to consider a no-discharge solution.

“Clean water is essential to the survival of these aquatic species and to maintaining a viable habitat,” USFW field supervisor Adam Zerrenner said in the letter to the EPA. “These species are unique to the local area and are supported by the aquifer recharge water that enters the Edwards Aquifer.”

The EPA withdrew its objection to the permit in July 2017, stating the partial allocation of wastewater toward subsurface irrigation was adequate in reducing the allowable amount of discharge into Onion Creek.

Currently under review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the city of Dripping Springs submitted an application for a permit in October 2015 which would allow it to discharge up to 995,000 gallons of treated wastewater effluent per day into a Walnut Springs tributary of Onion Creek. Several environmental groups oppose the permit, including Hays County grassroots organization Protect Our Water, citing its dangers to the health of both humans and wildlife.

The city of Dripping Springs has maintained it is committed to 100 percent beneficial reuse of the effluent in the form of land irrigation and, further down the road, potable drinking water.

Last week, a press release from Protect Our Water showed pink tap water flowing through the faucet of a Dripping Springs homeowner near the proposed discharge site—the result of an unrelated dye trace injection study by local conservation groups to observe the connection between surface water in Onion Creek and the Trinity Aquifer. Since the study’s genesis, dye has been detected in seven area wells.

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Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 and covers Austin ISD for the publication's three Austin markets. She is also the editor of the Southwest Austin edition.
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