Bill seeks to change standard for treatment of wastewater

Allie Kolechta

The Austin City Council championed a state senate bill that could improve the quality of water in Barton Springs at a meeting Thursday.

The bill would change standards for the treatment of wastewater — water left over from industrial uses. Developers and contractors dump wastewater into creeks and streams that open up into the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs, and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, wants to improve the water quality.

Watson, who authored the bill, worked with officials from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to create the bill. Watson has pushed for an outright ban of discharging wastewater directly into the contributing zone for the past two legislative sessions, and although that ban did not go through, this bill is the next best step, he said. Watson’s past attempts did not gain enough momentum to make it onto Senate floor.

“It would make a difference in the quality of our water,” he said. “Had this law been in place, the state wouldn’t have been able to make what I consider to be an unfortunate decision and allow one of the larger developments in that area to discharge its wastewater into the contributing zone.”

The bill would create high standards of treatment for wastewater dumped into the contributing zone of the aquifer and springs, Watson said.

It would also place restrictions on developers, requiring them to treat their wastewater to drinking water standards instead of wastewater standards, which are not as high, said Kirk Holland, general manager of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

The district chose to champion the bill because the aquifer provides a daily water supply to 60,000 residents, and the bill would protect that drinking water, along with Barton Springs in Zilker Park, he said.

“It’s an option for developers that doesn’t stop growth,” he said.

Belterra, a planned community near downtown Austin, received a permit to discharge wastewater into creeks and streams that make up the contributing zone of the aquifer and springs, said city engineer Chris Herrington. The wastewater eventually ends up in the swimming area of the springs.

The developer could potentially release 500,000 gallons of wastewater every day, a huge amount of water to be dumped into the contributing zone, Herrington said. The city currently dumps the majority of its wastewater into the Colorado River, which has a proportionally large amount of water, he said.

There are currently no limitations on the treatment of wastewater that is discharged into the contributing creeks and streams, Herrington said. The bill would require significantly more treatment to remove things such as nutrients that are currently left in wastewater so discharging would have less of an impact on the environment, he said. The monetary cost is hard to estimate because there are different methods that could be used, he said.

Because Barton Springs is an area frequented by UT students, any bill that might improve the quality of water in the springs is a positive one, said radio-television-film junior Andrew Frazier.

“Barton Springs is a big hangout for college students on the weekends,” he said. “The cleaner, the better.”