Dispersal of Wastewater a Major Problem

RECEIVED Tue., April 1, 2008

Dear Chronicle,
    Your article “Curious Development Afoot Over Aquifer” [News, March 28] is indeed curious, in that it reviews the grave concerns being expressed about the spray dispersal of wastewater in the Barton Springs contributing zone, yet that is exactly what is being done in every new development out there right now, and no one seems to be saying a thing about it. I have recently written about this matter, suggesting there is a better course of action for the residents of these developments, for their neighbors, and for the environment. New homes in this watershed are almost universally served by aerobic treatment unit systems, permitted by the county, with the effluent being sprayed over the lawns. The very interests that are decrying the idea that 1,377 homes would have their wastewater treated in a managed collective system, subjected to frequent testing, and the effluent sprayed over the landscape would sit silently by as that same number of homes had their wastewater treated to a much lower quality in treatment units of highly questionable reliability that are subjected to next-to-nonexistent management and no testing, with the effluent also sprayed – after highly questionable “disinfection” – over essentially the same landscape. This is the sort of “regulation” that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – and the public – allows the counties to apply, as long as the damage is done “only” one lot at a time. Then people run to TCEQ yelling about a proposal for doing this, only with better equipment and better management, on a collective basis. You suppose they will ever wake up and understand that the same thing – only without any real management or any pretense of assuring any level of water quality – has been going on all around them all along?
    We can do a much better job of managing our water resources in these sorts of developments (assuming the public agrees they should even be there – a whole 'nother issue). Using more “fail-safe” treatment methods and routing effluent to true beneficial reuse in subsurface drip-irrigation fields is a model that should be emulated in every development in this region. This scheme can be scaled up to served collective systems as well. Belterra is an example of a situation where applying such a scheme could not only obviate the ongoing fight over stream discharge of the effluent but also contribute very positively to the local and regional water economy. We need to stop treating “waste” water like it’s a nuisance to be gotten rid of and start addressing it like the resource that it is. Not just the water quality in Barton Springs but the very sustainability of economic development in this region depends on doing just that.
David Venhuizen, P.E.
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