Tension high at Wimberley public hearing over wastewater system plans

Tuesday, there was outrage at the Wimberley Community Center during a public hearing over city leaders' decision to outsource a water treatment plant to private company Aqua Texas.

Because the city is seeking funding from the Texas Water Development Board the public hearing was required to discuss economic and environmental impacts. 

About 90 people signed up to speak about the plans. After a 45-minute presentation by the mayor, she told the audience there would not be enough time for them to all speak. Then City Council chose speakers out of order, something one council member and the much of the audience were opposed to. 

One thing no one in the city disagrees with is that a wastewater collection system is needed to replace deteriorating septic systems affecting the Central Business District in Wimberley. 

In the small city surrounded by a beautiful landscape, it's easy to understand why the environment is such a big concern. It's how to best protect it that's causing so much disagreement in Wimberley. 

“I urge you that, if you end up deciding to accept the modified plan that, it be subjected to the same level of environmental scrutiny as the original plan," said Dr. Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and Environment at Texas State University.  

“It allows us, from an environmental standpoint, to eliminate pump and haul on the square,” said Phillip Vanostrand, who owns property in downtown Wimberley. 

In August, Wimberley City Council voted to scrap plans for a city-owned water treatment plant and move forward with a plant managed by Aqua Texas. 

“The more we researched AT's history, here and across the state and country, the more our concern grew,” said Louis Parks with the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development. 

In the new Aqua Texas plan connecting lines will run under Cypress Creek and will not reuse wastewater in Blue Hole Park. That didn't sit well with many in the city.

“Forcing Wimberley to further drain the aquifer, if it ever wants to bring Blue Hole to its planned state, just to help Aqua Texas stockholders, is robbing the future needs of this town and valley.  There is not that much water under there,” Parks said.  

City Council argued Aqua Texas can treat the water to a higher safety level than a city-owned plant, meaning any kind of runoff would be less impactful on waterways. 

“For my vote, I really welcome this alternative, which is an opportunity for land application, is much more protective of the environment with an entity that has plenty of land to accommodate the system,” said Scott Mitchell who lives on the Blanco River.  

Then there's the argument over money. The mayor said the Aqua Texas plant is cheaper to operate, and will also keep customer rates lower. However, others argue money already spent on the city-owned plant would be flushed down the drain. 

“Your approach is the most economical solution to our wastewater problem downtown, economically,” said John Irwin who lives in Wimberley.  

“This unpopular and environmentally unsound change has already cost Wimberley more than $3 million. Stop throwing away good money. Say no to the Aqua Texas plan,” Parks said. 

Many people at the meeting still don't trust Aqua Texas to manage wastewater for the city after an incident in 2012, when more than 100,000 gallons of sewage, managed by the same company, spilled into Plum Creek in Kyle.