Water Flows Downhill
Regional water plan nears completion while LCRA looks to move water westward
It's uncertain what, if any, impact a proposed regional plan will have on curtailing runaway growth in the Hill Country, but the first draft of an ambitious set of recommendations for protecting the salt of the earth groundwater, in this case is now available for public viewing at www.waterqualityplan.org. The Regional Water Quality Protection Plan is a multijurisdictional effort involving elected officials, landowners, environmentalists, and neighborhood leaders. The group is charged with crafting a plan to protect water in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. To accomplish this requires reining in developers bent on building residential subdivisions and retail centers in the rural countryside of southwest Travis and north Hays counties, where few environmental regulations currently exist. The Lower Colorado River Authority says the growth can't be stopped, but can be better managed. The LCRA is attempting to secure a state permit to become the sole water service provider for the area. The benefit of this, LCRA officials say, is that the utility would only provide service to developers willing to comply with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service water quality rules. But environmentalists say FWS rules are too narrow and don't address the need for limiting impervious cover in sensitive areas, as does the city of Austin's Save Our Springs Ordinance.
The regional plan promotes the use of alternative water sources apart from the LCRA, such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and wastewater reuse. Stakeholders involved in the planning process offered their initial comments on the draft plan Wednesday night, after the Chronicle went to press. Proponents of regional planning had hoped to have the report completed before the LCRA board made a final decision on providing water service to the Hamilton Pool Road area. The board is scheduled to vote Dec. 7.
Terry Tull, executive director of the Regional Water Quality Protection Plan, says the draft proposal will undergo a series of reviews and revisions before a final product is delivered early next year. "It's a watershed moment when you can create a product like this in a region where there has been tension between various parties," Tull said. "But this is now coming to fruition with everybody's input."