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SBCA Weighs in on 2nd Draft of CodeNEXT

SBCA sent a letter to Austin City council and others today about the latest draft of codeNEXT. With our partners, we showed support for some measures in the draft, while pointing out several issues that need improvement. See the press release below and full letter here. 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Oct. 31, 2017, 12:00 p.m.
 
 
New Water Policies Can Cut Pollution & Flooding in Austin
 
Local Advocates Back Changes to Development Code, Ask for More Protections
 
AUSTIN — Local environmental groups today announced their support for changes to Austin’s land development code that will help reduce water pollution and flooding severity. The proposals will require future developments to retain a minimum amount of rainwater with on-site features, and to limit the amount of runoff flowing into the city’s drainage system. However, local leaders stated that additional changes still need be made to protect Austin’s safety and environment.
 
Save Barton Creek Association, Clean Water Action, and Environment Texas backed the code proposals in a joint letter sent to members of the Austin City Council, the Environmental Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Zoning and Platting Commission. The commissions are currently reviewing the second draft of the revised land development code as part of the CodeNext process. A third draft, which will incorporate the commissions’ recommendations, will go to the City Council for final review early next year.  
 
“The proposed changes for the water quality, landscaping, and drainage sections of the development code are essential to creating a cleaner, greener, and safer Austin,” said Angela Richter, executive director of Save Barton Creek Association. “However, there are still some major gaps. In particular, the city still needs to address the potential flood risk of missing middle housing and lot-by-lot increases in density. The total effect of these new developments across a watershed could pose a significant flood risk if they are not held to the same drainage requirements.”
 
Three new code provisions will increase the use of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to reduce runoff pollution. Features such as rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain collection cisterns are able to use soil, plants, and natural drainage to capture and cleanse stormwater where it falls. Ten Austin creeks are presently rated by the state as unsafe for swimming or fishing because of pollution from runoff containing chemicals, oils, litter, and animal waste. 
 
While the city already has some good GSI policies in place, a recent report from Environment Texas Policy & Research Center found that actual use of these features in Austin is much lower than expected. According to city statistics, all existing GSI features in Austin manage the drainage for only 2 percent of the city’s land mass. The report, Texas Stormwater Scorecard, is available at https://environmenttexascenter.org/reports/txe/texas-stormwater-scorecard
 
One of the code proposals will require new developments and redevelopment to use GSI features to filter surface pollutants out of a defined amount of rainfall. Another provision will encourage the use of GSI in landscaping in and around parking lots, while a third provision will create GSI standards for developments with high amounts of impervious cover.
 
“Aging strip malls along major streets that were built without water quality controls or stormwater features are major contributors to local flooding and water pollution,” said David Foster, Texas Director of Clean Water Action. “It is imperative, as these properties are redeveloped, that they incorporate GSI features to reduce these harmful impacts.”
 
An important change in the drainage section of the development code will create a new standard for reducing the amount of runoff that may contribute to flooding. Under this new rule, both new developments and redevelopments will be required to maintain runoff peak flow rates at pre-development levels.
 
Under the existing code, redevelopments that do not increase the amount of impervious cover on a property are not required to make drainage improvements, even if the original development was built before Austin adopted its current detention requirements.
 
“These environmental code changes will fulfill some of the goals that were set in the Imagine Austin plan five years ago, and that were repeated in the City Council’s green infrastructure resolution this summer,” said Brian Zabcik, Clean Water Advocate at Environment Texas. “While the new water quality and drainage rules are necessary, the city should also have clear policies on how these regulations can reasonably be met by developments with high amounts of impervious cover, which may limited in how much rainwater they can feasibly retain or detain on-site.”
 
Though the water quality, landscaping, and drainage proposals for the development code have been endorsed by Save Barton Creek Association, Clean Water Action, and Environment Texas, the groups emphasized in their joint letter that further changes are needed. The groups have recommended adding the following provisions:
 
The threshold for water quality requirements, which are currently triggered when a development has 8,000 square feet or more of impervious cover, should be lowered to 5,000 square feet, as city staff originally proposed four years ago.
 
Landscaping features in new developments and redevelopments should be irrigated either by the city’s reclaimed water system or by water that is captured on-site, such as rainwater, air conditioning condensate, or greywater.
 
The proposed code change requiring runoff peak flow rates to be maintained at pre-development levels should also be applied to new residential developments with 3-9 units (“missing middle” housing that will be regulated under the code’s new “residential heavy” policy).
 
“The second draft of CodeNEXT came a step closer to realizing Imagine Austin’s vision of a green city,” said Richter of Save Barton Creek Association, “However, citizens must have a guarantee that they are not being placed in danger of increased flooding and decreased water quality as other Imagine Austin priorities are being met.”
 
The environmental groups’ joint letter, which includes additional code recommendations, is available at www.savebartoncreek.org/codenextwater.

SBCA Weighs in on Edwards Aquifer Rules

SBCA recently supplied the comments to the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program comment period.  Our focus was to prohibit direct discharge of wastewater in the contributing zone of the Edwards Aquifer and to ask for a public process to evaluate the rules in the context of new science and engineering best practices. The full comments letter can be found below. 

 

October 27, 2017

 

RE:          Edwards Aquifer Protection Program 2017 Comments

 

Ms. Beauchamp,

 

Save Barton Creek Association(SBCA) would like to submit the following comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on 30 Texas Administrative Code Chapter 213 (Edwards Rules) and the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP). The health of the Edwards Aquifer and in particular the Barton Springs segment of the aquifer is central to SBCA’s mission.  Our organization has been working to protect the aquifer and educate the public on this unique and sensitive environmental resource since 1979. In recent years our mission has become even more critical as population in the Hill Country grows like never before.

 

This increase in development correlates to an increase in run-off and wastewater which must be dealt with sensitively if we are not to significantly degrade the water quality of the aquifer. Decreasing water quality is a significant problem for those who rely on well water as a drinking water source. It is also a problem for the natural environment and the communities that rely on the aesthetic, recreational, and economic benefits of clean rivers, streams, and the aquifer.

 

In addition to increasing development pressure, recent science and advancements in stormwater and effluent best management practices since the last Edwards Rules change must be taken into account. Save Barton Creek Association respectfully requests that TCEQ conduct a stakeholder process to review current science and discuss potential EAPP rule and guidance document modifications in a collaborative setting.  We see a need for stakeholders including scientists, government entities, and nonprofits to efficiently coordinate and to provide TCEQ with the best available information to inform EAPP improvements.  Such a stakeholder process is consistent with the TCEQ philosophy to base decisions on sound science, ensure regulations are effective and current, and ensure meaningful public participation in the decision-making process.

 

Our primary comment on the rules is that wastewater discharge should be prohibited in the Contributing Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The Edwards Aquifer is extremely sensitive to pollution. Current rules only prevent wastewater discharge within the Recharge Zone despite the fact that the Contributing Zone is directly connected to the Recharge Zone. Discharges in the Contributing Zone, even in compliance with current rule, would significantly alter the quality of these oligotrophic surface waters and degrade the aquifer, as demonstrated by recent analysis of a proposed discharge permit to Onion Creek. Effluent water contains high levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) which cause algae blooms. These algae blooms are not only unsightly but through decomposition take up oxygen in the waterbody. The waterway may become hypoxic, causing fish and other aquatic life to perish. Algae also restricts light moving into the lower portions of the creek, altering habitat. These effects can reduce biodiversity and be a threat to endangered species. At high levels, nitrogen is unsafe in drinking water, restricting transport of oxygen in the blood. This is especially dangerous for babies and young livestock. Additionally, effluent water contains metals, pharmaceuticals, and many other chemicals from cleaning and body care products. The full effects of these products are not yet known.

 

There have not yet been direct discharges of sewage effluent in the contributing zone but the stage is set to change this. Individual landowners and nonprofits have been left to fight discharge proposals at great personal and financial cost. There are practical alternatives to direct discharge including land application and beneficial reuse.

 

We also ask that additional changes be made to the Edwards Rules based on the latest engineering science and best management practices. This includes technical guidance documentation for stormwater structural control measures (SCM) and stormwater best management practice performance standards. For example, the 80% total suspended solids removal standard of the Edwards Rules remains the benchmark used for assessing compliance for critical infrastructure projects like State Highway 45 Southwest even though studies by the City of Austin and others indicate degradation at these levels.

 

Additionally, we request that comments on the EAPP received during the public comment process be posted on the TCEQ website, and that TCEQ provide an estimate of when Edwards Rules will be updated.  The EAPP website contains public comments from 2013, but not for later years. Finally, please review existing EAPP staffing levels to ensure sufficient staff are available to effectively monitor the rules.  Water Pollution Abatement Plans are not consistently verified with proactive inspections in the field and inspections occur only in response to complaints.  Greenfield developments may occur in areas not visible or accessible to the public, such that violations may occur without complaints being generated.

 

We look forward to participating in the requested stakeholder process to review current science and discuss potential EAPP rule modifications. We would also like to reiterate the importance of prohibiting direct discharge in the contributing zone and updating stormwater structural control measures (SCM) and stormwater best management practice performance standards based on current science and engineering best practices. Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

 

We look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,

Angela Richter

Executive Director, Save Barton Creek Association

angela@savebartoncreek.org

512-480-0055

October Creek Crew

Photo credit: www.sh45sw.com

At our October Creek Crew happy hour the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District told us about their monitoring of the SH45 highway project to ensure the project is complying with best practices to protect the aquifer during construction.

Check out this video of the SH45 construction over the aquifer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqDr-PlT5Ek

Now Hiring- Part Time Program Coordinator

Now Hiring- Part Time Program Coordinator

SBCA Officially Adopts Barton Creek!

This summer SBCA officially adopted the section of Barton Creek from the 360 entrance to Spyglass! The Adopt-a-Creek program is a collaboration between Keep Austin Beautiful and Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. The adoption means that SBCA is committed to at least 4 cleanups a year on the trail. We will also be stewarding the Barton Creek and the trail by removing invasive species.

Our first trail cleanup under the Adopt-a-Creek program was Saturday September 30th. Thanks to the Crew for all their work removing trash! Join our meetup.com group to find out about upcoming cleanups and events.

Bill Oliver’s Mother Earth Day Festival

Bill’s annual Mother Earth Day festival will be September 15th this year. This is the 16th year that we’ve had families and lovers of Barton Springs come together to celebrate the end of summer and the start of the school year. Bill the “Environmental Troubadour” has reminded us year after year to  fight for what we love with a passion in our hearts. Come to Barton Springs on September 15th from 9am to 1pm for music, Hula Hoops, pirates, art, magic, science exhibits, and smiles. For more information: Mother Earth Day Website

To donate to the Mother Earth Day Festival or Save Barton Creek Association click Donate 

Save Our Springs 25th Anniversary!

It has been 25 years since our momentous group effort to protect our beloved Barton Springs. We want all of our SBCA members to come to the South Entrance “big tree” on August 8th from 8pm to 9pm. We will be watching “Common Ground” a documentary by Karen Kocher. This occasion will help organizers of old reaffirm their belief in protecting Barton Springs and its surrounding watersheds. Invite the uninitiated so they can become educated in our battle to protect Barton Springs. Bring a chair or blanket. Also come swim before the showing or stay afterwards for a free-swim!.

Austin Council Approves Green Infrastructure Resolution

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 16, 2017

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Brian Zabcik, Environment Texas, 512-479-9861

Angela Richter, Save Barton Creek Association, 512-480-0055

 

AUSTIN COUNCIL APPROVES GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE RESOLUTION

Environmental Advocates Applaud Decision to Create Integrated Green Plan

 

AUSTIN — The Austin City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that calls for the development of an integrated green infrastructure plan. The resolution specifically endorses the use of Green Stormwater Infrastructure features such as rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain harvesting systems in order to address the problems created by urban runoff.

 

Council Member Ann Kitchen (District 5) sponsored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Leslie Pool (District 7), and Council Member Alison Alter (District 10). Many community organizations and leaders supported the resolution, including Environment Texas, Save Barton Creek Association, and Clean Water Action.

 

“We congratulate the Council on taking this step,” said Brian Zabcik, the Clean Water Advocate at Environment Texas. “As Austin grows, we cover more land with buildings and roads. That creates more runoff, which creates more water pollution, more flooding, and more erosion. Because Green Stormwater Infrastructure cuts runoff, it can help us solve these problems.”

 

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) refers to building and landscape features that catch rain where it falls, letting the water soak into the ground, evaporate into the air, or be stored for later re-use. The Council’s resolution directs the City Manager to identify gaps in the City’s existing GSI policies, and to recommend solutions to address these gaps. The measure also instructs the City Manager to evaluate several GSI provisions in the CodeNEXT revision of the Land Development Code.

 

“By including Green Stormwater Infrastructure in the Code, we will ensure the Code’s effectiveness in making Austin the green and livable City we want,” said Angela Richter, Executive Director of Save Barton Creek Association. “GSI must be incorporated into the Code in multiple ways, including into denser residential zoning categories, into the Street Design Guide so that our public rights of ways can manage stormwater, and into landscaping guidelines for residential and commercial properties, as well as parking lots.”

 

GSI features can be found across Austin, including the rain gardens in the parking lot at HEB’s Mueller store, the rain harvesting cistern at Austin Public Library’s Twin Oaks branch, and the green roof at UT’s Dell Medical School.

 

“I’m very excited to see our Mayor and Council support Green Stormwater Infrastructure,” said landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, who designed the green roof at Austin City Hall and who is also a member of the City’s Code Advisory Group. McKinney added, “Landscape architects understand the innate connection that people feel with nature, and we understand that integrating nature into our built environment can create vibrant places. I regularly seek ways to accomplish this through my professional training and practice.”

 

Richter agreed, saying, “In addition to helping with water quality, flood severity, and water conservation, green infrastructure has been shown to benefit residents’ physical and mental health. For example, green elements in street design could be used both for stormwater management and for improving the quality of pedestrian and bicycle transit by creating barriers, lowering air temperature, and reducing noise pollution.”

 

Stormwater runoff has become a top cause of water pollution. Nationally, 40% of assessed streams fail to meet water quality standards, and urban streams have tended to fare worse than the national averages. Local testing has shown that Lady Bird Lake and ten Austin creeks have low water quality due to runoff pollution.

 

“Green Stormwater Infrastructure is being used because it works,” said David Foster, Texas Director for Clean Water Action. “Studies have shown that GSI features can sharply reduce runoff and filter out pollutants.” Foster added, “By allowing rainwater to be slowly absorbed into the soil instead of quickly running off, these features can also provide for higher moisture levels in the soil, which in turn supports our urban trees, creeks, and springs.”

 

“Building green is about building for the long haul,” Zabcik said. “It’s about recognizing that even in the city, our land and our water are precious resources that we have to protect. Green stormwater infrastructure is one way that Austin can achieve this goal.”

 

For additional information, please see:

Save Barton Creek Association, CodeNEXT Community Viewpoints Paper:

http://www.savebartoncreek.org/codenext-viewpoint/

 

Environment Texas, “Catching The Rain” GSI report:

http://environmenttexas.org/reports/txe/catching-rain

 

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SBCA on CodeNEXT

Save Barton Creek Association strives to be an objective opinion on Austin’s development in regards to water quality and green space integrity. Our organization analyzes Austin’s CodeNEXT zoning code to determine the cities ability to protect our creeks, rivers and watersheds.

Read More:

CodeNEXT Community Viewpoints Paper

Sewage Update: Dripping Springs and the Legislature

There have been several new developments this Spring in regards to Dripping Springs’ proposal to dump nearly a million gallons a day of treated sewage into Onion Creek.
While SBCA and our partner organizations were optimistic the legislature may pass a bill banning direct discharge of wastewater in the contributing zone to the Edwards Aquifer, these bills did not become law this session.
Dripping Springs City Council elections on May 6 saw the election of two new members. We are hopeful that these new voices will change the dialogue toward a no-discharge solution.
TCEQ has still not issued a response to the EPA, as they must do following the EPA interjection in December, Therefore, the permit is still on hold. In the meantime, the parties that are officially protesting the permit continue to work on a draft settlement. Protect Our Water commisioned engineer Lauren Ross to produce a water water balance analysis. It showed Dripping Springs could accomplish 100% beneficial reuse of wastewater effluent (no discharge) by providing 700 acres for irrigation and 39 million gallons of storage.
SBCA continues to support efforts to come to a no-discharge solution.
To keep apprised on our campaign against direct discharge in the contributing zone, sign up for alerts here.