Wastewater permit brings protesters to Barton Springs Pool

Onion Creek is a vital part of the eco system in the hill country, city leaders in the town of Dripping Springs say they're fully aware of that and understand the need to protect it.

"I've been out there 24 years, the mayor has lived out there his whole life, his family owns land on Onion Creek. We have no desire whatsoever to harm Onion Creek,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Foulds.

The area around Dripping Springs continues to grow, more rooftops also mean more toilets.

City planners want to reduce the number of septic systems and small independent utility districts that will serve future developments. Doing that requires changing how the town's wastewater treatment plant operates.

A request for a state permit to discharge almost one million gallons of treated wastewater into a tributary that feeds into Onion Creek was made. The TCEQ permit is opposed by environmentalist who organized a Halloween themed protest rally Friday afternoon.

"We were shocked to find that most Austin likes don't really know about this yet,” said Angela Richter, Interim Executive Director with Save Barton Creek.

Those at the protest fear treated wastewater could cause algae blooms on the waterway. They also believe it could seep into the Edward's Aquifer which feeds Barton Springs Pool; miles away in Austin.

"So actually 40% of the water in Barton Springs is from Onion Creek and from that segment so whatever is in that segment is definitely going to be here at the springs,” said Richter.

City officials say the discharge permit is only a back-up plan. The treated wastewater is being sold to local developers. It will be used to irrigate landscapes as well as parks and ball fields. What's not sold will be stored in a ten million gallon pond on the south side of town. If a discharge ever happens city officials are confident safeguards will prevent any environmental crisis.

"I don’t want to say its cleaner than Onion Creek is currently is, but I guess the best analogy is, would you drink the water in Onion Creek today, and the answer would have to be  no you wouldn't drink that water it’s a creek, cows are going to the restroom, and all sorts of things, in it. What we are putting into it will be of a similar quality, in some areas it be a better quality, in some areas it might not be as good of quality, but it will be a highly treated wastewater affluent,” said Foulds.

The debate over the discharge permit application will continue November 10th, when a public meeting with state regulars will be held.