U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks EPA to deny Dripping Springs' request to discharge wastewater 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.

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

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, or USFW, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to deny the city of Dripping Springs' request to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek. Among its reasons is the potential risk to three federally-listed endangered species.

The species in question are the Austin blind salamander, the Barton Springs salamander, and the Comal Springs dryopid beetle. In his letter to the EPA, USFW field supervisor Adam Zerrenner recommended that careful attention be paid to the "direct and indirect effects of the proposed permit" on the imperiled species.

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

The letter states that discharge of municipal wastewater presents significant risk to water quality because of elevated nutrients and contaminants which are not removed during the treatment process. It lists examples such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and inorganic pollutants—all of which pose threats to aquatic life, according to the USFW.

The letter also pointed to the risk associated with untreated sewage accidentally making its way into the creek. Richard Beggs, board member with the Protect Our Water, an organization which aims to protect Onion Creek from pollution, said this was especially significant.

"Of particular interest were their comments on [the impact of] untreated sewage due to mechanical failure or emergency discharge as well as many contaminants that impact aquatic life but are not removed in the treatment process," Beggs said. "This important letter is one more example of why Dripping Srings should seek a more responsible, no-discharge solution."

Both salamander species inhabit Barton Springs, which Beggs said obtains 34 percent of its water from Onion Creek. In the letter, Zerrenner pointed to the critical impact the wastewater would have on the species' habitat.

Last September the city of Dripping Springs submitted a draft permit to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, requesting permission to release 995,000 gallons of wastewater into Onion Creek per day. In November, dozens of north Hays County residents gathered at a public hearing in Dripping Springs to oppose the permit.

The EPA has alleged that the TCEQ inadequately analyzed the draft permit, and has requested more information on the commission's Tier 2 analysis, which determines the impact the wastewater would have on water quality.

According to Ginger Faught, deputy city administrator for the city of Dripping Springs, her office has known about the USFW letter since December.

"It is part of the process," Faught said. "We will work through this like we have worked through other issues."

Faught said that the TCEQ has not yet issued a formal response to the EPA's comments on the draft permit.

The Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce voted to support the city's application for discharge on Feb. 21.

 

 

 
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.


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