Naked City

Swamp Thing Born on Lick Creek

The grass may in fact be greener over at West Cypress Hills, the newest "master planned community in the Texas hill country." But area residents who share frontage on the beloved Lick Creek with West Cypress Hills say the heavy amounts of fertilizer the subdivision uses to make their grass so green is polluting the creek's once crystal-clear waters.

The Guardians of Lick Creek, an ad hoc group of neighbors and environmentalists, began reporting problems last week, this time in the form of huge algae formations appearing on the waterway. Nick Lasorsa, Guardians media vice president, said, "Some of these algae formations are more than 10 feet long, others are round and bigger than truck tires. In some places, where water flow is inhibited, a green scum floats on the water's surface, making the creek resemble a swamp. It's absolutely disgusting!" He says the source is unmistakably WCH. "All one has to do is to look at the difference between Lick Creek's upper East Branch before it joins the West Branch, to see where the problem is coming from. The West Branch is clear. The East Branch, which flows directly from WCH, is green with algae." None of the other comparable, nearby creeks, such as Bee Creek or Little Barton Creek, are experiencing similar problems, Lasorsa said.

Tom Hegemier, the LCRA's water resources engineer, disagrees. "Algae is present in other Hill Country creeks and undeveloped watersheds," Hegemier said. He recalled seeing major algae blooms on Hamilton Creek, upstream from Hamilton Pool. The blooms are caused by excess nutrients in the water, which add up from a number of different sources in the area, he said. "We don't have data that pinpoints the source to one site." The nutrients can come from a variety of origins, such as animal waste, septic tank leakage, and lawn fertilizer, he said. "All the rain we've had has washed everything off the land surface."

But the Guardians of Lick Creek aren't buying it. "In 2002 we had huge rain events in the area and this problem didn't exist," said Pepper Morris, a Lick Creek resident and Guardians vice president. "We're all puzzled and confused about [Hegemier's] comments." After a series of public meetings with other area residents, Morris said, no one has corroborated other significant algae blooms in the region. "To us it is very obvious where the algae is coming from." The Guardians have also filed a federal lawsuit against WCH under the Clean Water Act, what Morris calls a last resort effort to get their creek back. "Obviously, the agency that should be stewards of our waterways has fallen down on the job," she said.

"We're not trying to stop development," says Lasorsa. "We're trying to promote responsible development and, in particular, to stop the shameful damage being done to our downstream property and creek by WCH." More info at www.lickcreek.org and www.westcypresshills.com.

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