TCEQ Rejects Pristine Streams Petition — But Admits Wastewater Pollution Is A Problem
Thanks to your support for the Pristine Streams Petition, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has acknowledged that it needs to do more to protect our state’s most beautiful rivers and creeks from treated wastewater.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. On March 30, TCEQ’s three commissioners voted 2-1 to deny the petition, which asked TCEQ to stop issuing new wastewater discharge permits on some of the Hill Country’s most treasured waterways. You can watch the video of the meeting here.
Barton, Cypress, and Onion Creeks would have been among the streams protected In central Texas, as well as the Blanco and San Gabriel Rivers. The petition was filed by the Hill Country Alliance (HCA), Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA), Devils River Conservancy, Friends of Hondo Canyon, and 59 individual landowners.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of encouraging signs during the commissioners’ meeting:
• Most importantly, Commissioner Bobby Janecka voted to accept the petition. While he didn’t support the recommendation for a prohibition on new discharge permits, he felt the commission should have accepted the petition in order to start TCEQ’s rulemaking process.
• Although they ultimately voted against the petition, Chairman Jon Niermann & Commissioner Emily Lindley listened closely to supporters and showed that they were engaged with the issue. They both said that discharging treated wastewater into pristine streams is a real problem that TCEQ needs to address.
• A large and diverse group of backers delivered a strong set of arguments for the petition. Supporters who spoke at the meeting included representatives from the Blanco City Council, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Onsite Wastewater Association, and Texas River Protection Association.
• Statements of support were filed prior to the meeting by the cities of Bandera and Wimberley, as well as Edwards and Real Counties. In addition, more than 1,200 online comments were filed with TCEQ, with all but a handful in support of the petition.
• None of the petition’s opponents bothered to speak at the meeting — an absence that Commissioner Lindley noted. Statements opposing the petition were filed beforehand by the Texas Association of Builders (the trade association for real estate developers), the Texas Association of Water Companies (the trade association for privately owned utilities), two law firms representing cities with wastewater discharge permits, and the city of Dripping Springs.
• Prior to the meeting, TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker recommended rejecting the petition, because the Legislature had considered similar bills but failed to pass any of them. Chairman Niermann expressed his dissatisfaction with Baker’s reasoning, and substituted his own order for rejecting the petition. Still, even Niermann’s order acknowledges that TCEQ is only doing what’s “legally adequate” to protect our state’s most pristine streams.
• The meeting was covered by two Austin TV stations, Fox 7 and KXAN, which interviewed Brian Zabcik and Sydney Garcia from SBCA, and Katherine Romans from HCA, for their stories.
Though the petition was rejected, there will be several opportunities to advocated for pristine streams in the coming months:
• Niermann directed TCEQ’s staff to examine whether the agency is doing enough to protect pristine streams. He also suggested that the agency could set up stakeholder meetings to discuss the issue. All three commissioners said that they were willing to meet directly with the petition’s supporters.
• TCEQ is being reviewed this year by the Texas Sunset Commission. Sunset staffers are expected to issue a report next month with their recommendations for TCEQ. Sunset commissioners will then consider those recommendations when they meet in late summer. SBCA has already asked Sunset staff to include a pristine streams discharge prohibition in their recommendations. We’ll also be asking Sunset commissioners to include the pristine streams prohibition in the recommendations that they forward to the Legislature.
• Finally, we’ve already started planning our strategy for next year’s Legislative session. HB 4146, which would have also prohibited new discharge permits on pristine streams, advanced farther in last year’s legislative session than any previous bill on wastewater discharge. We plan to build on that success in working for a pristine streams bill next year.
Save Barton Creek Association wants to thank you again for everything you did to support the Pristine Streams Petition. We’ll be in touch in the coming months with more information about how you can help protect Barton Creek — and all pristine streams in Texas — from wastewater pollution.
During the commissioners’ meeting, Chairman Niermann told petition supporters, “Y’all are going to have to keep fighting this.” We will.