Molly Gonzales - Wastewater

Texas State is home to a well-attended chapter of Young Life, a Colorado-based Christian organization comprising mainly high school and college students. Texas State Young Life members spend a lot of time together, including camping together at LoneHollow Ranch in Vanderpool, Texas, where members enjoyed a Spring Break retreat last month.

LoneHollow Ranch is a beautiful, newly-acquired camping complex situated on over a thousand acres of land by the Sabinal River — a river that Young Life Texas has recently requested a Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for to dump up to 60,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day.

While Young Life has claimed it will use much of its wastewater for irrigation — the supply of water to land or crops to help growth — and that any wastewater it does release will be treated to drinking water standards, that does not mean the water is safe for sensitive aquatic environments.

Treated wastewater still contains elevated levels of nutrients — like phosphorus and nitrogen — which can contribute to eutrophication, a process that leads to algal blooms that can choke out fish and other aquatic life beneath a river's surface. If Young Life were simply going to use wastewater for irrigation, it would simply need a Texas Land Application Permit — which only allows for effluent disposal by land, not into public rivers, creeks or streams.

So far, the Sabinal River — and other waterways in the area, like the Nueces River — has avoided any wastewater effluent, making it one of central Texas' last pristine river systems. Any permit granted along the Sabinal only allows for land use (primarily irrigation) of wastewater.

This new threat to these clean waters has rallied a large opposition to the granting of Young Life's permit, both by local elected officials and community organizations. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Bandera Canyonlands Alliance, Friends of Lost Maples and several other groups, have held meetings in Utopia and other area towns to protest the permit, and state Representative Tracy King (D-80) has introduced House Bill 4146 to restrict permits like the one Young Life is seeking.

Now, Texas State Young Life members — many of whom have been lucky enough to see and appreciate the beauty of LoneHollow Ranch and its stretch of the Sabinal River and its tributaries — must join in with local stakeholders to convince Young Life to find a different way to deal with wastewater. Stacey Noll, LoneHollow Ranch's Camp Manager, has stated that environmental stewardship is a "key pillar" of Young Life's management plans for the camp. If this is the case, Young Life should instead seek a zero-discharge land application system to dispose of its wastewater at LoneHollow Ranch.

Members of Young Life, as well as any other central Texas resident who values the beauty of the Hill Country and its waterways, can currently file comments with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in opposition to Young Life's permit.

Anyone who is concerned about the effects of wastewater dumping on river health should comment on permit WQ0015892001 asking that TCEQ hold a public meeting on the permit and support the denial of the permit due to the consequences it will have on public waterways. Holding a public meeting can help Young Life move forward with environmental stewardship by taking into account the concerns of local stakeholders and taking an honest look at their role in the preservation of the Texas Hill Country.

- Toni Mac Crossan is a biology graduate student

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