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Don't Dump Sewage – Reuse It

By Brian Zabcik
Clean Water Advocate

Mike Clifford, organizer for the "No Dumping Sewage" campaign, contributes today's guest post. Environment Texas is a signatory to the campaign's petition, which calls for a ban on dumping treated sewage into creeks and rivers above the Edwards Aquifer.

Environmental organizations and many Texas residents object strongly to cities, towns, and developments dumping their treated sewage into our clear Hill Country waterways. But what else can be done with treated sewage? One of the main uses for this effluent is Beneficial Reuse, the recycling of wastewater for a productive use. Beneficial Reuse solves two big problems at once for Texas: it provides a much-needed source of water for agriculture, surface watering, and industry, and it eliminates the need to pollute an existing waterway with wastewater.  

According to the Texas Water Development Board, 14% of Texas’ new water supplies will come from the Beneficial Reuse of wastewater by 2070, enough water to fill a completely dry Lake Travis to the brim. Because of the expanding Texas population, coupled with our limited water supplies and drought-prone weather, we will be unable to meet our future water needs without wastewater reuse. Many Texas cities and developments are already recycling their wastewater because they understand the value of using it as a resource rather than a pollutant. Two of those we’ll discuss in this article are the City of Austin and the Belterra subdivision.  

Austin has been able to turn some of the city’s waste into a profit. All yard trimmings collected curbside across the city as well as some of Austin’s treated sewage sludge are combined and composted to create Dillo Dirt™, a compost for gardens and landscaping that is sold in many area stores. The city also recycles its wastewater into a network of pipes that run all over the city. For as low as 1/3 the cost of standard tap water, some users can opt to purchase reclaimed water that is treated to high standards (90% of the quality criteria of drinking water). Because this wastewater is high in nutrients like Nitrogen and Phosphorous, it is ideal for watering golf courses, area parks, lawns, and many other green surfaces. The city has promoted wastewater reuse by requiring that any new commercial development or redevelopment within 250 yards of a reclaimed water main connect for irrigation, cooling, and other significant non-potable water uses.   

Ironically, one of the best examples of a central Texas development reusing wastewater is a development that battled environmentalists for several years, the Belterra subdivision between Austin and Dripping Springs. A sprawling, 4000-home, 1600-acre development that is virtually a city unto itself, Belterra broke ground in 2001 and quickly attracted the attention of environmental groups with a plan to discharge their wastewater into nearby Bear Creek, which recharges the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. A four-year fight ensued, culminating in a negotiated settlement which placed strict limitations on Belterra’s wastewater discharge. As a result, the development now irrigates 201 acres of open spaces with recycled wastewater and disposes of an additional 150,000 gallons/day via subsurface irrigation to nearby fields.

So why don’t all new Texas developments and towns recycle their wastewater? Simply put, money. At first glance, it seems cheaper to dump treated sewage into a nearby creek than to do the necessary planning and implementation steps of recycling it back into the community. However, that first glance ignores not only the environmental impact, but also the cost of paying for water down the road, especially during drought conditions. Does a town or development need water of drinking quality level to water their parks? Of course not, but that’s exactly what they’re doing, paying for costly potable water to fulfill a use that could be better handled with wastewater.  Then there’s the environmental impact. A recent TCEQ report on the South San Gabriel River shows the effects of dumping large quantities of wastewater into a Hill Country waterway. And yet most municipalities and developments have no wastewater recycling plan, they just want to dump it all in the creek, forget about it, and let someone else deal with the resulting pollution.  

The No Dumping Sewage campaign focuses on eliminating direct discharge of treated sewage into our Hill Country creeks and rivers.  We need people like you to sign the petition at www.nodumpingsewage.org, and if you’ve already signed, please circulate the petition among your friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone else who will listen. You can also donate here to the cause of preserving our Hill Country waterways.  

The Texas Hill Country is facing an onslaught of massive development. These developers and municipalities are using a weakness in current Texas state law to try and dump their wastewater into our beautiful creeks and rivers. What they SHOULD be doing is not spoiling the very resource that draws people to central Texas in the first place, and instead helping protect that valuable asset and ensure their future water supply. But many of these decision-makers are short-sighted and profit-oriented. Beneficial Reuse is something that Texas will need in order to survive into the next century, as our population grows and our water supplies diminish. Let’s promote it sooner rather than later.

Additional links for "No Dumping Sewage":

• Official website with petition

Official video

• GoFundMe page  

• Facebook page