|San Antonio Express-News (TX)|
|Metro and State News Page 01B|
|New park-and-ride facility could send pollutants
Guerra STAFF |
|Publication Date : November 29, 2007|
|Every week, the San Antonio City Council
considers requests for zoning changes and variances, often from
developers. And every week, neighbors and others often show up to
oppose such changes, arguing that rules should be respected. |
today, the council will consider a truly unusual request. And
Elyzabeth Earnley of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas will be
there to oppose a zoning change for 20 acres of wooded land at the
corner of U.S. 281 and Marshall Road.
"Both the San Antonio Water System and the U.S. Geological
Survey say this location is extremely permeable; one of the most
porous parts of the Edwards Aquifer," she says.
But what makes this zoning case so unusual is who is asking
for it and for what reason.
"It's the city of San Antonio that is asking for the change,"
Earnley explains, so that the VIA Metropolitan Transit can build its
sixth -- and largest -- transit park-and-ride facility over one of
the most vulnerable areas of the recharge zone.
Unlike other aquifers, the Edwards does not
filter the water that recharges it. Until now, we haven't needed
plants to treat our water because nature delivers heavy rainfalls
that recharge one of the world's largest karst aquifers,
giving us bottled-quality water out of faucets.
As the recharge zone has been developed, some aquifer
protections have been established. Current zoning for these 20
acres, for example, limits impervious cover to 15 percent. But if
this change is granted, that will rise to 65 percent, which experts
say is dangerous.
"It is well established that once impervious cover exceeds 15
percent, contaminant concentrations in surface water increase
rapidly," says hydrologist George Rice. "And on the recharge zone,
that surface water recharges the aquifer."
Oil, grease and metals -- including lead and arsenic -- and
industrial solvents used for degreasing are often found in parking
lots, Rice says. But a study of an Austin creek bounded by parking
lots also found "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in high
concentrations in the runoff from parking lots," Rice adds,
"especially in the runoff of parking lots sealed with products
derived from coal tar."
And several PAHs, he points out, are suspected carcinogens.
In a memo to the Zoning Commission, SAWS staff presented
powerful arguments for denying the change, noting that USGS found
the area to be protected only by very thin layers of soil, that it
has "rock outcrop exposures" and probably has caves.
SAWS staff also expressed "general concerns" about "improper
use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers needed for landscape
maintenance" and "the build-up of hydrocarbons and other pollutants
that are then carried off in the first flush of storm water
Then the SAWS honchos recommended approval of the zoning
change -- if proper precautions and storm-water containment plans
So what? ask the opponents.
"We're opposed to this park-and-ride because regardless of
what kind of catchments they have, they can't control 100 percent of
(the storm water run-off)," says Gregory Snow of the Northwind
Property Owners Association, all of whose members rely on their own
"We know how it rains and floods in San Antonio, and there
will be times when (the runoff) will carry those petrochemicals
downhill into the surrounding area and Northwind Estates."
"This is a continuation of bad city policy," adds Annalisa
Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer
Alliance. "The city allowed high-density development over the
recharge zone for years, so now they need a park-and-ride to help
with the traffic. But are we going to further pollute the
aquifer to make up for the mistakes we already made?
"We can't treat this as if it's any other piece of land. It's
not. It is a very, very sensitive area."
To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545
or e-mail email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesdays,
Thursdays and Saturdays.