Join us at the CARD Town Hall Meeting:
Protect Our Wimberley Valley
January 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm
(doors open at 6:00 pm)
Wimberley Community Center, 14068 Ranch Rd 12
CARDtalk: Just the Facts
With the recent interest in the Wimberley Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and the proposed Aqua Texas alternative, it is important to have accurate information to help sort through the many claims and counter-claims being made. We have compiled the following information that you can use to understand the issues being debated. Some of this material is found on the City of Wimberley website; other information comes from credible outside sources. We include excerpts from each source and provide links to the original material.
The "Settlement" and how it improved the Wimberley Wastewater Treatment Plant
On September 29, 2015, the City of Wimberley signed a settlement agreement with representatives of the Blanco River Cypress Creek Water Association (BRCCWA), the Paradise Valley Property Owners Association, Rocky River Ranch, and KKP3237 LLC in the contested proceeding on the City's proposed wastewater discharge permit application pending before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The agreement settled a contested case that had been filed in the State Office of Administrative Hearings by the groups named above. They objected to the City's permit request because it would allow the plant, if conditions ever pushed it beyond capacity, to discharge its Type 1 (safe for human contact) effluent into Deer Creek and from there into the Blanco River.
To make the WWTP virtually a no-discharge plant, the City agreed to make the following improvements:
- Add the following conditions to its TCEQ permit:
- Allow discharge only as a last resort
- Require effluent sampling and water quality monitoring
- Post the sampling and monitoring results to the City's website
- Add and maintain a 500,000-gallon effluent storage facility
(a tank to hold additional effluent to further decrease the possibility
- Expand irrigation within the Blue Hole Regional Park, the primary
use of the Type 1 effluent
- Distribute any treated water not needed for Blue Hole irrigation to
downtown for irrigation, to save the use of aquifer water
- Not expand the plant treatment capacity beyond 75,000 gallons per
- Use UV disinfection instead of chlorine disinfection
- Install a de-nitrification unit to limit the total nitrogen in the
- Sample any discharged treated wastewater for nutrients, and
sample wastewater annually for emerging contaminants and toxic
To ensure that the City follows the terms of the Settlement, there is a Remedies section (paragraph 18, page 4) that details the steps that any party can take if it believes that the City is not in compliance.
Read the Settlement Agreement on the City of Wimberley website (www.cityofwimberley.com).
The Water Balance Study – Can the fields at Blue Hole absorb the amount of Type 1 effluent?
A concern was raised that the Type 1 effluent (safe for human contact) used to irrigate Blue Hole Regional Park would run off into Cypress Creek. In September 2016, the Water Balance Study by Alan Plummer Associates, Inc. concluded that the Blue Hole parkland where the water will be applied can absorb more than all the production of the water plant, making runoff into Cypress Creek highly unlikely.
To learn more about the City's Wastewater Project, go to www.cityofwimberley.com and click on Wastewater Project on the left side of the page. To see the Water Balance Study report, scroll down to the bottom of the Wastewater Project page and click on "WW Project Water Balance."
Reports about Aqua Texas – Rate hikes with little customer recourse; poor performance; environmental violations
These involve many of our municipal neighbors.
For environmental violators, state often cuts deals by David Barer and Robert Maxwell, August 9, 2016
"Aqua's Burnet County wastewater treatment plant in Granite Shoals has been cited multiple times for violations related to the release of treated wastewater into the lake and the company's facility, according to records obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality."
Growth of large private water companies brings higher water rates, little recourse for consumers by Eric Dexheimer and Jeremy Schwartz, December 18, 2011
"Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial."
"The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn't keep numbers, but "their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent," said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency's water utilities division."
"Texas law also entitles private water companies to recover the cost of the rate-making process through customer billings. In 2004, a multistate investor-owned water company called Aqua America requested a rate increase for several Texas developments and cities. It wrapped up in 2007 after more than three years of wrangling. Aqua's legal and consulting costs were more than $2.5 million, a figure the company tacked onto customer bills."
"Even if they win, Texas ratepayers have no such recourse. Requiring residents to take on big companies on their own dime while paying the new higher rates pressures them to settle disputes as quickly as possible, critics say."
San Antonio Express-News:
Progress made in mediation on Aqua Texas rate boost by Zeke MacCormack, October 24, 2012
"But the monthly bills doubled for some customers served by water systems that were acquired by the firm since its last rate increase in 2004, who now are being brought up to the new regional rate."
" ‘What we find unjust and unreasonable is the regionalization of rates,' said John Quest, representative of five subdivisions, including two in Comal County served by the former Canyon Springs Water Co."
"Officials of Aqua Texas, which owns 450 sewer and water systems that serve 200,000 Texans, say regionalizing rates protects customers of small utilities from huge rate boosts should their systems need large capital improvements."
San Marcos Mercury:
Monarch, Aqua Texas rate hikes draw scrutiny by Kate Galbraith, November 30, 2012
"At a hearing Wednesday in Austin, lawmakers on the Senate Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from regulators, water companies and ratepayer groups about proposed changes to address the problem. David Burghard, a Hays County resident, told the committee that his water rates rose more than 200 percent in February." and " ‘I do have a concern that the rates — prices — will have no limits,' he said."
"But in rural areas, where few customers exist, private companies have taken over, and tales of double- or even triple-digit rate hikes abound. Ratepayers say that they are hamstrung in efforts to fight the increases because the water companies, which have monopoly status, have far more money. Also, the companies' cost of litigating rate-increase complaints ultimately gets charged to ratepayers."
City of Kyle dispute with Aqua Texas over operation of Kyle Wastewater Treatment Plant
In May 2015, the City Council voted to buy its WWTP from Aqua Texas because of a series of "illicit discharges and other major permit violations," from 2010-2014, while Aqua Texas was operating the City of Kyle plant.
Hays Free Press:
Kyle Votes to Purchase Wastewater Treatment Plant by Moses Leos III, May 22, 2015 (download pdf)
Plum Creek Watershed Partnership:
2014 Update to the Plum Creek Watershed Protection Plan (pdf) by Nick Dornak, November 2014
Page 96 - Appendix B: Brief History of City of Kyle WWTF Permit Violations Since 2010 – brief (3-page), excellent summary of the continuing problems and violations that Aqua Texas incurred while operating the City of Kyle Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Page 12 - "Furthermore, a series of illicit discharges and other major permit violations from 2010 through 2014 at the City of Kyle WWTF and Goforth WWTF, both of which are located in the upper reaches of the watershed, have made progress toward achieving nonpoint source water quality goals identified in the WPP extremely difficult to ascertain. Despite a history of TCEQ enforcement actions and fines levied against the two Aqua Texas, Inc. subsidiaries that operate these facilities, operational failings at these plants have continued to persist."
Page 13 - "…serious permit violations, including a series of illicit discharges totaling well over 1 million gallons of untreated and partially treated wastewater due to operational failings at the City of Kyle WWTF (WQ0011041002) in 2010, 2012 and 2014…"
Official notice on the City of Kyle website:
"Wastewater Treatment Facility: As of October 1, 2015, the City of Kyle has assumed responsibility for the operations of the wastewater treatment plant from the previous contract operations company, Aqua Texas."
Related articles from Food & Water Watch:
The State of Public Water in the United States, February 16, 2016
"Communities are moving away from water privatization, with its record of expensive and unreliable service, and instead opting for publicly owned water systems."
"Food & Water Watch also conducted a comprehensive survey of the water rates of the 500 largest U.S. community water systems and found that large for-profit, privately owned systems charged 59 percent more than large publicly owned systems."
Questions & Answers: A Cost Comparison of Public and Private Water Utility Operation – Learn why public money for public utilities is the best deal for taxpayers, July 23, 2009
- CARD Steering Committee
"Q. Do private utilities charge more for water and sewer service?
A. Yes, compared to local governments, private utilities charge the typical household 33 percent more for water (see table 1) and 63 percent more for sewer service (see table 2)."
CARDtalks are written and approved by CARD Steering Committee members. We are listed on our website's About page.