Keep Treated Wastewater Out of Our Creeks, Aquifers and Springs!

Barton Spring. photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey.

As the Texas Hill Country adds population, more and more subdivisions want to send their sewage to treatment plants which discharge the treated effluent directly into creeks and rivers. Discharge of treated effluent into waterways is banned inside the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, where water percolates through cracks and fissures in the limestone creek beds directly into the sensitive Aquifer below. But the practice is still allowed just upstream in the Contributing Zone, even though waterways there flow directly into the Recharge Zone, taking whatever pollutants they contain with them. Clean Water Action and our allies in the No Dumping Sewage campaign have been calling for extending the discharge ban to the Contributing Zone but the Texas Legislature has so far failed to act.

Even when treated, sewage effluent contains nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen) that can lead to unsightly, smelly algae blooms that deprive the water of oxygen and kill fish. Once discharged into waterways like Onion Creek or the Blanco River, some of this effluent finds its way into people's drinking water wells, Barton Springs and other treasured swimming holes. Even when discharged into waterways that do not flow into the Recharge Zone, such as the South San Gabriel River in Williamson County, treated effluent can do major harm to surface water quality.

Until recently most subdivisions in the Contributing Zone have disposed of their sewage onsite by treating it and spraying the treated effluent onto fields set aside for this purpose, using a Texas Land Application Permit (TLAP). TLAP fields have thick soils and plants chosen for their ability to absorb the nutrients, as well as a storage pond to hold effluent during rain events when saturated soil makes land application unfeasible. As land values spike, however, more subdivisions prefer to send their sewage 'away' so they can sell the land that would otherwise be used for land application.

A much better option is to use treated effluent onsite for beneficial purposes, such as irrigating parks or flushing toilets. This can reduce or eliminate the need for TLAPs as well as avoid the damaging discharge of effluent into our waterways. It can also conserve scare water supplies by avoiding the use of water treated to drinking standards for non-potable purposes.  

Send a message to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality today!