Bridget Bohac July 16, 2019
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 13087 – MC 105
Austin, Texas 787011 – 3087
RE: Application of Cherryville GP, Inc. and Cherryville #5, Ltd., for proposed TPDES Permit No. WQ0015738001
Dear Ms. Bohac:
On behalf of San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), please accept these comments in the above-referenced matter. Our mailing address is P. O. Box 1393, San Marcos, TX 78667-1393. Communications for SMRF in the above-referenced matter may be sent to Dianne Wassenich, Executive Director.
The San Marcos River Foundation requests a contested case hearing for the Cherryville permit. We have members in the Fentress area and downstream along Dickerson Creek and along the San Marcos River in the area where the creek meets the river. We have members who own creekside property, which they reside on, within 1 mile of the Cherryville discharge point.
The San Marcos River Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting public access and preserving the flow, beauty and purity of the San Marcos River since 1985. We successfully protested lax wastewater permits in the 1990’s that resulted in upgrading water quality of the San Marcos River markedly, during that decade. We won a contested case hearing in which we asked for the City of San Marcos parameters to be tightened to a 5-5-2-1 permit. The state’s A.E. Wood fish hatchery run by Texas Parks and Wildlife then built a treatment plant to treat their pond waste, as a direct result of our efforts, and Camp Gary decided to connect their wastewater line to the City of San Marcos plant rather than participate in a hearing we requested.
The 5-5-2-1 water treatment was state-of-the-art 30 years ago when SMRF won that hearing. It is now 2019, and we know the membrane technology Cherryville will build is capable of treating to 5-5-2-.5 now, which would cut the 40 lbs of phosphorus that would go into the creek in half, simply by going to the .5 instead of the 1 requirement. It is time to do better, now that we know better what should be done to keep the creek, river and wells clear of algae, by implementing adequate phosphorus removal from wastewater.
This improvement in water quality of the river downstream of San Marcos resulted in old-timers like Shorty Grumbles of Staples stating that the river then became clearer than it had been since the 1940’s, as it flowed by Staples (closest upstream town to Fentress). This summer we are facing two more TCEQ permitted discharges from smaller package plants along the very river that we worked so hard to clean up in the 90’s, a river which now supports an active recreational use by thousands every day in summer, good fishing, and several water intakesfor public and private water supplies. These intakes are often in shallow wells in the alluvial gravels of the river, and serve Martindale and Fentress and people living around those towns, in Caldwell, Hays and Guadalupe Counties. Other departments of TCEQ know these alluvial aquifers are connected with the river and area creeks, but perhaps the wastewater permitting division does not know about these wells.
Tri Community Water Supply in Fentress has recently upgraded their water filtration plant at great expense, and they report that floods that cause Dickerson Creek and the river to have increased sediment loads, then cause Tri Community to have to change filters more often. So the creek and river are connected to these alluvial gravels. The water supply cannot afford to buy more technology or drill deeper wells, if that would even help in their location, since they are in debt for the recent upgrade required by a different department of TCEQ. These issues need to be considered by TCEQ since the Cherryville discharge to Dickerson Creek will flow directly toward the wells of TriCommunity, in the same alluvial aquifer. We have consulted with a notable hydrogeologist who confirms this situation and can testify in a hearing.
The Dickerson Creek discharge proposed by Cherryville will go into what TCEQ considers an “intermittent” creek. It is intermittent because the water drops into the alluvial aquifer as it runs along Highway 80. The creek is at times quite wide and deep, with good flows. As it crosses under Highway 80, the creek culvert may not be able to handle increased flows without affecting Highway 80, and needing some highway modificationsif a large amount of discharge (as Cherryville proposes in the future) is to be added to this creek. It must be noted that the creek collects rainfall runoff from a very large watershed and already floods over the road at times. This culvert issue needs to be considered by TCEQ in this discharge permit.
There are also several SMRF member landowners we are aware of, whose properties are intersected by the creek and it will impact their ability to use their property if increased flows are put into Dickerson Creek. Their use of the creek for fishing and recreation will also be impossible with the increased nutrients, algae, odors and spills that most small wastewater treatment plants bring to creeks.TCEQ needs to consider these impacts to landowners, and we can introduce information about this issue in the hearing.
The engineer for Cherryville explained to us that the membrane technology to be used in the proposed Cherryville treatment plant is capable of producing “better than 5-5-2-1 water quality”. However we see that TCEQ is only requiring a draft permit quality of 10-15-3, which has NO treatment for phosphorus. During our ten years of doing scientific studies to prove the need for a better plant in San Marcos in the 1990’s, as well as Camp Gary, and the first treatment plant for the state fish hatchery, SMRF had scientists conduct river studies which proved that phosphorus was the limiting nutrient, and serious damage to water quality would be occur without treatment to remove phosphorus from the wastewater.They also proved exactly where the phosphorus was coming into the river—the point sources of the three wastewater discharges.
These phosphorus studies, plus the actual measurement of the depth of the river in hundreds of spots, with a 20 foot “yardstick” by members of SMRF who were engineers, led to the wastewater assimilation model being redone by TCEQ, and eventually, SMRF’s win in the permit hearing. We realize that the state does not have the staff to study all rivers and creeks in detail, and must use “average Texas river data” to model wastewater discharges and water quality. We must point out however, that this does not work for clean clear rivers like the San Marcos, or creeks that drop into alluvial aquifers and affect people’s wells. That is where organizations like SMRF can help come up with the data TCEQ needs. Please allow us to assist you, to improve this permit. We can bring this information and scientists to a hearing, to inform.
This decade of work on three permits in the 1990’s took many hours of the TCEQ staff, lawyers, hearing examiners, SMRF staff and lawyers and volunteers, City staff and engineers and lawyers, and thus hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by all the parties. The result was much cleaner water, but if those dollars had simply been spent on technology for the plant to start with, and a hearing avoided, the cost to the permittees and state government, would have been substantially reduced. SMRF does not lightly enter into contested case hearings since we know what it will cost in both money and time, but in this case, we cannot let a 10-15-3 permit cause permanent harm to our members, the customers of Tri Community, the recreational community, the fish, the wildlife, the creek, and the river.
Treating the wastewater to the 5-5-2-.5 level or better, will make the treated product much more valuable, to sell for irrigation or industry. There are many uses for good quality treated wastewater and water prices are skyrocketing, so there is already a demand that San Marcos can barely meet for its treated wastewater. It is an attractant for industry or business that can use such water in their cooling towers, where it is actually better suited than aquifer water, and especially for computer-oriented industries that need cooling for their facilities. This is an economic plus for Cherryville. Reuse could keep Tri Community wells, and all the wells of nearby landowners, safe from the excess nutrients in the wastewater that would flow down the creek if discharged and go straight to their wells. High nitrates can be a public health problem in alluvial wells, causing blue baby syndrome if the water is not treated.
Having good quality wastewater and a small lake for storing some of it, helps make treated wastewater even more valuable as a commodity. We understand that Cherryville will use some of this wastewater on their own subdivision amenities, perhaps a pond and landscaping, and also might consider a nearby grass farm on the SM River as a customer. We strongly request that the wastewater NOT be transported to the grass farm in the creekbed since the nutrients will cause the creek to be choked with odor causing algae in warmer months,since there is little shade along the creek, and the creek will be at times, mostly or totally wastewater. There must be purple pipe to transport the wastewater to customers that will buy the treated wastewater.
SMRF also objects to small package plants that are unmanned, a common practice that TCEQ permits. This Cherryville plant will not be manned 24 hours a day,and our experience and TCEQ’s experience with multiple plants and hundreds of spills shows clearly that an operator cannot get to a plant in time, even if some kind of alarm goes off. This is not safe for public health, in this creek in particular. Raw sewage is spilling into creeks and rivers hundreds of times per year in Texas. The bacteria from those inevitable spills will cause serious problems to landowners’ wells and Tri Community’s public wells, not to speak of recreational users, fishermen, and the fish as well as other wildlife and the benthic community of the creek and river. These issues all need to be discussed in a contested case hearing.
We will never forget the bloodworms on daily TV News in Austin for weeks, downstream of the Buda wastewater treatment plant that repeatedly overflowed with raw solids. Since we personally know the landowners whose stock pond became the place where all those solids ended up, we know it took many, many years to clean up this problem. An unmanned plant is simply not workable. Kyle learned this as well during their repeated spills in recent years, with raw solids being sent to the Plum Creek golf course, destroying irrigation equipment there and a grinder which became clogged with objects like plastic tampon holders. Fentress does not deserve this kind of problem being laid on its creek and river, as Cherryville expands.
Also, these small plants for subdivisions generally need an overhaul in 5 to 10 years, but often subdivisions are built out, the developer moves on, and then the homeowners do not have the capacity to keep the small plants operating in the long term, adequately. We see evidence of this all over Texas, and we are sure TCEQ knows of many as well, which have failed to be kept operating properly. It is better for Cherryville to tie to a regional plant that is large enough to have operators there around the clock, and which has a robust reuse market as well for the treated wastewater. Cooperating with other towns or subdivisions planned for the area might be one way to accomplish that, creating a larger scale plant that can sell the water for reuse more easily.
Finally, we want to make sure TCEQ is considering river wildlife which requires good clear water since that is what the San Marcos River conditions have been, in which its wildlife has thrived. San Marcos River now has a family of river otters sighted in the Martindale area and other area otter sightings have occurred. We would like these creatures to remain healthy and have a healthy food and water supply. That means that all the creatures of the San Marcos River including fish, mussels, benthic creatures and invertebrates need clean water to survive and reproduce. A great deal of research is being done on mussel species (and many are in the San Marcos River) which are being considered as possibly threatened or endangered. We would like TCEQ to consider all the impacts on wildlife, fish and mussels if a lax permit like the Cherryville draft 10-15-3 is implemented, and then choose instead to require a better quality discharge. This is part of the charge of the Texas Commission of ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY.
To summarize, we emphasize and urge TCEQ to amend the draft permit to require 5-5-2-.5 as the permit parameters, encourage as much reuse of the wastewater as possible, and consider the critical issue of nutrients being transported straight to the wells of creekside and riverside landowners, and the Tri Community public wells, via the alluvial gravels along Dickerson Creek. We underlined the many critical issues we are listing in this letter, for your convenience in answering our comments formally. For all these listed reasons and their explanations, we contest the permit and would like to introduce evidence in this hearing on these issues.
Please consult with the department of TCEQ (or Texas Water Commission), which was formerly called the Wellhead Protection Zone Team. In the 1980’s they drew a circle to show how quickly pollution would reach a public water supply well, if it were spilled or discharged into a creek or river in that circle. This was done to work with cities to prevent that from happening to the water supplies, if the circle indicated it was a matter of a few hours or a day to reach the well. It was a pro-active program 30 years ago to protect public water supply wells, and this very process was used to protect Martindale’s alluvial well. The Wellhead team could provide the Wastewater Discharge Permitting Team of TCEQ with some valuable insights. If that kind of protection no longer exists for TCEQ’s use, perhaps dye tracing tests on the creek, could gather that information for the hearing, or be done in advance to inform your responses to our comments. (Though the dyes must be types not harmful to public water supply wells.)
Thank you for considering the many issues of our deep concern that we bring to you on this draft permit, and thank you for holding a public meeting, since so many are interested in contesting this permit.
Dianne H. Wassenich, Executive Director, SMRF