On January 19, San Antonio City Council voted to join the Southern Edwards Plateau Habitat Conservation Plan, a method to allow development in Bexar county on land that contains endangered species habitat by preserving similar land elsewhere. For the full story of the Plan's development and what it means for the region, see the write-up on the Laws and Regulations page.
On January 17, Judge Amy Clark Meachum of the 201st District Court reversed a decision by TCEQ to issue a recycled water discharge permit to the Johnson Ranch Municipal Utility District and remanded the case back to the agency for further proceedings.
The case involved an application by the utility district to discharge up to 350,000 gallons of treated water daily into a ditch that carries it across a low area on an adjoining property and then to Cibolo Creek, which recharges the Edwards Aquifer. TCEQ may issue such permits to discharge to State watercourses. It does a thorough modeling analysis of the impacts the water will have on receiving streams and then develops permit limitations that will be protective of the stream. In this case, none of that was at issue - the question was whether the discharge was to a State-owned watercourse or onto the private property of the District's neighbor. Judge Meachum decided the course in which the water would flow lacked features that made it a State watercourse, so TCEQ had erred when it issued a permit.
The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, which was a party to the suit, hailed the decision as a victory. Executive Director Annalisa Peace said the practice of recharging the Edwards Aquifer with treated effluent "has to stop."
Treatment experts pointed out the quality of water from treatment plants far exceeds that of stormwater runoff, which is the main source of Edwards recharge. Recycled water from these plants is a tremendously valuable resource, with many utilities finding ways to save potable water supplies and reduce Edwards pumpage by using recycled water for non-drinking purposes such as irrigation and in industry. At plants that do advanced treatment involving removal of nitrogen and phosphorous, the water produced exceeds drinking water standards.
In recent years, there has been a number of similar lawsuits filed by environmental groups to prevent recycled water discharges. Treatment experts suggest the real target is development, not the water. To them, it seems unfortunate that environmental groups have sought to vilify recycled water to stymie development. It is misleading and duplicitious to try and give recycled water a bad name when the real goal is to halt the development the plant serves. That will only be counter-productive in the long run to the goal of making greater use of recycled water for human and environmental needs.
It is also not rational or practical to push for bans on discharges of recycled water into streams that recharge groundwater resources because every stream recharges groundwater resources. Experts suggest that if environmental groups believe recycled water can harm aquifers, the correct and honest approach would be to push for treatment standards they feel are protective.