Under fire from environmental groups, Tom Hodge, general manager of Canyon Lake Water Service Company, announced on April 24 that CLWSC is withdrawing the proposed permit received from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to construct and operate a wastewater treatment facility in Startzville. “This week we decided to step back and reevaluate our application for permit and submit it at another time. We are withdrawing our permit application as of this week,” Hodge said. “We have decided there is a better way to approach this, and that is with firm commitments and the support of the community.”
In response to the issuance of a proposed permit by TECQ on March 13, the Friends of Canyon Lake (FOCL), a non-profit organization dedicated to oversight and protection of the lake and the Guadalupe River, along with other concerned citizens, objected to the manner in which the original application was filed and was requesting a public meeting on the subject.
According to Bob Wickman, president of the board of FOCL, we “have serious concerns about this project because there have been no public meetings, hearings or media information to date.” Wickman states that the proposed permit specifies that the effluent from the wastewater treatment facility will be discharged into an unnamed tributary and thence into Canyon Lake. The proposed permit specifies that the volume of treated wastewater will not exceed 490,000 gallons per day (gpd) but does not specify the treatment parameters for the effluent.
The permit application to the TCEQ was filed by San Jose Water of Texas (SJWTX), Inc., a subsidiary of Canyon Lake Water Service Company (CLWSC), on January 8, 2008. TCEQ’s executive director determined the application to be administratively complete and issued a preliminary decision or proposed permit (No. WQ0014869001), on March 8. “Two months have passed without the public having knowledge of SJWTX’s intent to build this plant or how it will affect the area,” Wickman said. “Now, time is short for finding out the technical aspects of this project and how it will affect our community,” he added.
According to Kathy Perales of the Canyon Lake Art Guild and FOCL, she received the notice on April 8, a month after its issuance on March 8. She met the next day with Hodge, the new general manager of CLWSC, who “was openly concerned that I even knew of the project, since CLWSC had not planned to inform the public yet,” she remarked. “I knew that TCEQ would allow us only a brief period to voice any objections before they approved the CLWSC request. Failure to do so within that narrow time frame would render us as having ‘not timely filed.’”
Perales’ said that, in discussing the project, Hodge said that it mainly would fulfill a need for about 5,000 gpd for Startzville Elementary School, with “some room for growth.” Perales said that the daily discharge for the City of Kerrville is about 450,000 gpd; the City of Comfort is only about 250,000 gpd; the huge Silverleaf Hill Country Resort Complex is only 100,000 gpd. “Whatever could require so much sewage treatment in Startzville, and what impact would this have on our lake?” she asked.
Perales said she repeatedly suggested to Hodge that CLWSC withdraw the permit request until public meetings could be held to inform the public and allay their concerns. She then called TCEQ and confirmed that the notice she had received was a preliminary notification and that final notification would be in “two to three weeks,” after TCEQ staffers review the plan for completion.
“At that time, we will have only 30 days in which to respond, or be judged as having not timely filed,” she said. In a later, brief conversation with Hodge, he told Perales that they were going to press ahead “because the project is too important.”
According to the proposed permit, the domestic wastewater treatment facility will be located approximately 900 ft northwest of the intersection of Old Sattler Road and Dorothy Street, and “the discharge route is from the plant site to an unnamed tributary; thence into Canyon Lake.”
“We know this refers to the creek that flows past homes on the edge of the Canyon Lake Golf Club (on the fifth green near the intersection of Dorothy Street and Shayla Lane), across the golf course, and into Canyon Lake,” Wickman said. “As the water enters the lake, it will affect the Oaks Subdivision Park at the mouth of the creek, the Comal Park swimming and recreation area, and the Triple Peak intake. We want the water going into the lake to be as good as that (currently) coming out of the lake,”
“We want to flush this out into the open and get CLWSC and SJWTX to respond to our concerns,” Wickman said. “The most important thing is to protect our environment here. We want excellent treatment of this water, such as a membrane filtration system; and to have public hearings to ensure that our concerns are addressed.”
The following are the main concerns of FOCL and responses by Hodge:
If the plant is being constructed for the purpose of processing wastewater from the Startzville Elementary School (a volume of 5000 gpd), why are they asking for 490,000 gpd? Hodge responded that the 5000 gpd was a starting point only and perhaps after 5 years or so the plant would generate 100,000 gpd of effluent and then increase as the area grows. The 490,000 gpd was intended as a cushion for anticipated growth, he said. Its initial capability was never intended to be 490,000.
What are the treatment parameters for the effluent they propose to dump into Canyon Lake? Hodge said that CLWSC is considering three technologies: a standard design, such as that at Lakeway (Austin); a treatment process that removes clear treated water; and an ultra-filtration membrane that removes 100 percent of bacteria and 99 percent of viruses. The resulting effluent will be clear, treated water as pure as the drinking water. “We supply the area with drinking water and would not do anything to contaminate the water supply,” Hodge said. “We extract water from Canyon Lake, and it would be advantageous if we could return the treated water to the lake and not deplete the water supply,” he added.
The unnamed tributary passes through a public golf course that is subject to flooding, during which waters overflow the tributary. Further, the tributary is believed to overlay an aquifer from which water is being currently pumped. What impact will inevitable pipeline leakage have on this habitat? As stated above, the water will be according to potable standards and should have no deleterious effect on the area. Terry Nichols, owner of the Canyon Lake Golf Club, confirmed that he had met with CLWSC about the treated water crossing the golf course and the possibility of using the water to irrigate the golf course. “If it is good clean water and we can use it, that would be fine,” Nichols said, “but no decisions have been made. We would like to do what is best for the community--whatever will help the community grow.”
What effect will the presence of a large wastewater treatment facility in the downtown area of Startzville have on the city’s economic development? “The plant itself would be no larger than this (CLWSC’s) building,” Hodge said. “We have the support of the school district and local business leaders. When we approach this again, we will conduct meetings to inform the public and find out what their concerns are.”