A new route for a planned wastewater pipeline in Georgetown would go around Berry Springs Park and Preserve rather than underneath it and would not negatively affect the park or the surrounding environment, according to city officials.
The alternate plan, which would build a portion of the pipeline northeast of the park, follows a unanimous vote from the Williamson County Commissioners Court in December that turned down the city’s previous proposal to have a section of the pipeline built underneath the county-owned park at 1801 CR 152, Georgetown.
“I’ve been in a lot of discussion; I’ve been through a lot of things, [and]I have the utmost respect for the leadership of Georgetown,” former County Judge Dan Gattis said before the vote. “My mind tells me to vote yes; my heart tells me to vote no.”
The pipeline, called the Berry Creek Wastewater Interceptor, will accommodate future population and development growth, particularly in the northwest areas of Georgetown near Sun City, city officials said. It would start at a lift station in Sun City and run southeast along Berry Creek to the Pecan Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant on FM 971.
The city plans to have a final route approved by the fall with construction beginning late 2019 or early 2020. Funding for the interceptor was approved by the city in its fiscal year 2016-17 budget.
Plotting the path
City officials said the shortest, cheapest route for the pipeline would include a portion built underneath the center of Berry Springs Park, but after initial skepticism from county commissioners, the city developed a plan that would run under a small portion of the park’s east side.
Critics said placing the pipeline through any portion of the park could ruin the park’s vegetation, contaminate its springs and change its landscape indefinitely.
“When you go through and put these [pipelines]in, you’re taking every inch of vegetative matter out. You’re taking all the trees, all the brush, all the grass and all the topsoil,” said Susan Wiseman, a master naturalist and former president of the Native Plant Society of Texas, a nonprofit conservation organization. “[Pipelines change] the geology of the land.”
The city initiated talks with the county in late 2017 to receive permission to build through Berry Springs Park. The county commissioners’ denial frustrated some city leaders.
Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross told City Council in January that the city should limit its interactions with the county on the pipeline’s construction moving forward.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook said she understood the frustrations, but the project was too risky for her or the other commissioners to be comfortable with.
“This is clearly a disappointment for [Georgetown],” Cook said. “But in the end, [the city]couldn’t mitigate the risk that that project presented, and they admitted they couldn’t.”
The pipeline’s new route would go underneath I-35 toward Dry Berry Creek northeast of Berry Springs Park, then around an RV park at 131 Market St., Georgetown, before continuing toward the Pecan Branch wastewater plant, said Jim Briggs, Georgetown’s general manager of utilities.
Briggs said the new route would increase the pipeline’s development cost by 10 percent, or $2.5 million, bringing the project’s total cost to $27.5 million. The additional money would allow the city to purchase rights of way from landowners along portions of the new route.
He added that the new route could extend the pipeline’s length by 500 to 2,000 feet, depending on the final pathway.
While the new route would be more expensive, Briggs said it would be the best option and least damaging to the surrounding environment. The new route will also allow homes and businesses in the area that use septic systems to have access to the city’s wastewater system, he said.
“Construction is going to be disruptive; that’s a fact,” Briggs said. “It takes a lot of equipment and takes a lot of earthwork. … But it’s part of the process to put [the pipeline]in the ground.”
The wastewater pipeline will be mostly gravity-based, which Briggs said is the most commonly used type of pipeline. It would be built 30-35 feet underground within the Georgetown Formation, the layer of the Earth’s surface underneath the park and its surrounding area. The city would need environmental approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since the new route would be located in the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge zone, from which water enters the aquifer, said Martha Otero, a spokeswoman for TCEQ.
The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water to San Antonio and surrounding Central Texas communities, according to the TCEQ.
Planning for the future pipeline also identified a need for a lift station—an electric-powered pump that moves wastewater from lower to higher elevation—to the west of I-35. Briggs said the construction of the lift station would be dictated by future development growth in that area.
Throughout the city’s planning process, some residents and environmental activists have raised concerns about the pipeline leaking.
Briggs said a leak-proof pipeline cannot be guaranteed, but modern design standards and construction materials make such an occurrence rare.
Briggs said the potential for a leak in a gravity-based pipeline is about 1 percent, and the risk is generally greater in areas where pipelines connect to treatment plants or lift stations. In addition, gravity pipelines tend to keep wastewater contained when there is a break in the line rather than release water as the force of the break creates a vacuum within the pipe, Briggs said.
“The environment is at less risk with a gravity [line]than with a pressure line,” Briggs said.
The pipeline’s proposed location is downstream of the Edwards Aquifer’s waterflow, which runs southwest to northeast, and would take the material away from the park if a leak were to occur, he said.
While the pipeline’s alternative route would run along the east side of Berry Springs Park, additional development in the area could eventually require a second pipeline to the park’s west, Briggs said. A pipeline on the west side could have greater environmental risk to the park, as construction would require more trees to be cut down, he said. The upstream location would also increase potential contamination in the event of a leak, Briggs said.
“There will be infrastructure on both sides,” Briggs said.