d i r e c t i m p a c t s The issues facing the river have a direct impact on humans and the environment. These are some of the eects South San Gabriel River residents have seen. • Inability to partake in recreational activities and swimming • Loss of home sales • Property value decreases • Stench for homeowners on the river
May 10, 2018 Failure to ensure safety of all individuals at the wastewater treatment facility $12,000 fine VIOLATED: 69 DAYS
May 10, 2018 Failure to prevent an unauthorized
May 16, 2019 Failure to minimize or prevent violation with likelihood of aecting human or environmental health $36,000 fine VIOLATED: 67 DAYS
discharge of wastewater mixture
$5,063 fine VIOLATED: 8 DAYS
• Loss of aquatic species • Elevated nutrient levels
SOURCES: PAM SYLVEST, LAWANN TULL, TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
‘They’re killing the river’ As a result of the river’s issues and its appearance, homeowners said, they fear property value dropping and unsellable properties. Some have already seen eects on their homes. In July, Pam Sylvest lost her home’s sale after the buyers saw a sign in a neighbors’ yard warning of the riv- er’s smell and concerns. The sign was meant to deter families from swim- ming in the river, Sylvest said, but it ultimately lost her the oer. “That was 45 minutes before the close,” she said. Sylvest said she has taken the loss as a sign she was not supposed to move, especially in a pandemic, where she is now glad to have the open land. She said the river’s quality aected her property value, too, as she was paying property taxes on a home val- ued at $549,000. Because she could not sell it for $440,000, she said, she used her lost sale to reduce her home valuation with Williamson County. She bought the home and 5-acre property 22 years ago as a place for her children and grandchildren to enjoy the river and rural land. Now, Sylvest is surrendering to the situation; she said she begs for rain to wash the sludge out. “It’s truly sad for my grandchildren. I worked all my life to be able to have this and give them a little piece of
nature,” Sylvest said. “And what this has done to the most glorious part of those ve acres is sad.” Years ago, Sylvest said, her family would bring a cooler with drinks and a boombox to relax on the river. Today, she said, her grandchildren suit up in waist-high boots to look at the sludge-lled river and scrub with soap and water afterward because they worry about what is in the water. “Why is no one watching the river?” she asked. “This is our waterway. This is where our children play, and I’m sick about it.” According to 2019 city projections, the number of Liberty Hill wastewa- ter connections will increase by 197% from 2018 to 2028. About 11,000 of the 13,000 total customers will be res- idential out-of-city connections. To allow for growth, the city has planned $75.9 million in wastewater projects in its 2019-28 capital improve- ment program, according to city docu- ments. Projects include expansions of the South Fork plant and a proposed wastewater treatment plant on the North Fork San Gabriel River. Georgetown resident LaWann Tull has lived on the river since 2007, when the river was only a “trickle.” Her family would watch sunsets and eat meals outside, she said. Her church would perform baptisms in the San Gabriel River. She used to see sh and limestone in the water. “They’re killing the river—at kill- ing the river,” she said. To combat the city’s growth and the increase in wastewater processed, solutions, such as reuse of treated water, must be pushed, she said. “We’re not after anything but clean water—safe water,” Tull said. CleanWater Act Stephanie Morris moved her family to the South Fork San Gabriel River river seven years ago. “The last few years, it has just been extremely depressing,” she said. “Our life’s savings, our life’s work is invested in the property.”
Morris’ family prays for oods to wash out the river’s sludge and muck, she said. But those are just temporary before the river turns “nasty” again. Morris began taking action to save the river—or what is left of it, she said—ve years ago. h o w m u c h i s 4 m i l l i o n g a l l o n s p e r d a y ? The wastewater plant now emits about 800,000 gallons per day. If approved, it could discharge a maximum average of 4 million gallons . How much is that? The maximum daily discharge would ll about An Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 600,000 gallons of water. On Sept. 4, on behalf of Morris, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid gave the city of Liberty Hill a 60-day notice of intent to le a Clean Water Act law- suit against the city of Liberty Hill “to halt signicant, chronic, and ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act” and “to seek penalties against the City for past and ongoing illegal discharges from the City’s wastewater treatment plant,” the notice letter said. The lawsuit seeks the enforcement of 3,108 discharge permit violations. Under the Clean Water Act, pen- alties total $55,800 per violation per day paid to the federal government. The CWA, which is overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will bring Liberty Hill’s viola- tions to a federal court and seek pen- alties, said Amy Johnson, an attorney representing Morris. The goals are for the city to comply with its wastewa- ter permit and to return the river to its native, pristine quality, she said. SOURCE: PHINIZY CENTER FOR WATER SCIENCES COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER six Olympic pools per day.
Johnson said that although the steam is outside city limits, they hope the city cares about the local stream and the environment. “And if they do, then the question is, ‘Why would they want to put more and more wastewater into this stream when, even at this little bitty amount, they’re already doing damage?” John- son said. If the parties do not settle, out- comes of the lawsuit could include a stricter, more protective permit for the stream, permit violations or a failed renewal, Johnson said. According to city worksheets and EPA data, as well as the lawsuit, the plant has exceeded phosphorous permit limits for 994 days, ammonia nitrogen permit limits for 1,070 days, total suspended solids permit limits for 321 days, carbonaceous biochem- ical oxygen demand permit limits for 66 days and E. coli permit limits for 20 days. Morris said the lawsuit felt like the only option left and said she believes there should be “reverse 911” com- munication from the plant when the E. coli level is high. After several years of no alerts, she now receives notications a few days after a viola- tion, which is too late, she said. She hopes that the city would work with future developments to create a reuse program for the water. Reuse wastewater could be for irrigation or sent to water treatment plants. If costs are high to implement reuse, Morris said the decision should be left up to the customers. She said the few TCEQ violations don’t always give the big picture. “Even during the time periods that there haven’t been any violations for months, the condition of the river— at and below that plant—is not just unsatisfactory,” she said. “It is gro- tesque and unusable.”
For more information, visit communityimpact.com .
CEDAR PARK LEANDER EDITION • NOVEMBER 2020
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