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WTP 4: Home for the Holidays

Road to decades-delayed Water Treatment Plant No. 4 may be coming to amicable end

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Dec. 28, 2007

WTP 4: Home for the Holidays

Believe it or not, the road to decades-delayed Water Treatment Plant No. 4 may be coming to an agreeable end.

At its Dec. 13 meeting, following a lengthy executive session, City Council voted to use bond dollars originally appropriated for the plant in 1984 to buy a parcel of land in western Travis County. The tract – aka Site 34 – is approximately 95 acres of land at the southwest corner of RM 620 and Bullick Hollow, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said in a presentation prior to the vote.

Site 34 was found following council's Aug­ust decision to delay construction one year while the city reassessed its options one last time. In 1984, the city proposed WTP 4 on land it owns at Bull Creek, but over the years, as concerns mounted about building at the creek's headwaters, the area surrounding it turned into the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The city moved to relocate WTP 4 to nearby lands that didn't pose as grave an environmental impact yet were within the preserve – the approval of which preserve co-manager Travis Co. ultimately denied. In January, coun­cil announced its intention to return to Bull Creek, before the August moratorium. (For a review of the history, see "To the Light­house," Feb. 23.)

The August resolution compelled a "full review and re-examination of site selection criteria," plus "examination of new potential sites." Garza said that after weighing the environmental, engineering, and financial criteria, staff found some 83 potential sites – an astonishing rebuttal to previous assertions that the Bull Creek and preserve tracts were the sole options. After further vetting which sites "most appropriately met the council's direction and also met our system needs," the city found Site 34 and also another viable tract. Authorizing the city manager to purchase Site 34, council also authorized continued backup negotiations on this unnamed secondary site.

The suddenness of the closed-door discussion and same-day purchase led to speculation council was offered a limited period for purchase; the actual cost remains to be determined. Most confounding may be the question of how WTP 4 – long described by city staff as fit for only two locations – could then be found to have 83 new potential sites, including two exceptional ones. Council Mem­ber Lee Leffingwell's Water Cons­er­va­tion Task Force is credited with delaying the project long enough for the city to look one more time, with "new site selection criteria." But as WTP 4's unhappy history looks to draw to a close – with council campaigns looming – the city's reasoning sounds like convenient cover to finally fix a lingering problem.

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