A new report released by the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and Save Our Springs Alliance shows that the state’s permitting of land disposal of wastewater is failing to protect the Edwards Aquifer and Hill Country springs, creeks, rivers, and groundwater. According to the report, Land Applied Wastewater Effluent Impacts on the Edwards Aquifer, prepared by Dr. Lauren Ross, Ph.D., P.E. of Glenrose Engineering, a growing body of evidence establishes that poorly operated systems and a lack of permit standards are putting water resources at risk and leading to pollution.
Building on current studies and data, Dr. Ross’s report undertakes a comprehensive review of the Texas Land Application Permits (TLAPs) issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the recharge and contributing zones of the Barton Springs and San Antonio segments of the Edwards Aquifer. The conclusions are troubling.
Despite being labeled “no discharge” permits, we are seeing wastewater migrating and causing significant water quality degradation under land application permits,” said Dr. Ross. “The TCEQ needs to take a hard look at the growing use of these permits over the Edwards Aquifer and address the failures of the current regulations.”
Other alarming findings from Dr. Ross’s report include:
- The volume of wastewater disposed over the Edwards Aquifer has dramatically increased in recent years, especially in the Barton Spring segment of the Edwards Aquifer.
- Current TLAPs have inconsistent, inadequate, and sometimes non-existent standards for treatment, storage, irrigation area, and monitoring.
- Only two out of the sixty-four TLAPs reviewed by Dr. Ross have been reporting results of soil monitoring required by TCEQ regulations. Soil monitoring is currently the most important regulation for detecting over-saturation and poor treatment, and other performance problems.
- Most TLAPS have no provisions limiting increases in nutrient concentrations — the primary pollution threat for Hill Country water bodies — and no requirements to monitor downgradient springs, creeks, and rivers.
- Given that karst features beneath irrigation areas cannot be completely identified, mapped or defined in recharge areas, TLAPs over the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer should be prohibited. The thin soils, karst topography, and sensitive water bodies in the recharge zone are not suitable for disposing of large volumes of wastewater. Review of a recent application for what would be the first TLAP over the recharge zone confirms this conclusion.
Dr. Ross’s report provides a list of specific recommendations to address the growing problems being caused by TLAPs. First and foremost is the need to revise existing TCEQ regulations to provide for consistent, enforceable, and protective permit standards that will ensure that TLAPs are, in practice, “no discharge” permits.
“There is a lot of room here to create regulations that both protect the Edwards Aquifer and provide incentives for responsible reuse of wastewater,” said Bill Bunch, Executive Director of Save Our Springs Alliance, which along with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, sponsored the preparation of Dr. Ross’s report with funding from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. “But we need to act now to prevent further degradation of our water supplies and the Hill Country springs, creeks, and aquifers that millions of people depend on.”
Annalisa Peace, Executive Director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, added “As the population of Central Texas increases, the issue of sewage disposal over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge and Contributing zones is one that we cannot afford to ignore.”