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
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.
Executive Director, Save Barton Creek Association