Can you imagine 3000 Homes in the Bee Creek Valley without adequate water quality protection measures?

Along Hwy 71 at the intersection of Bee Creek Road, the scenery is breathtaking. Bee Creek is one of the area's most spectacular creeks. The ridge lines here are some of the highest in Travis County. The oaks give the Bee Creek Valley a display of color each fall. The night sky is dark. The water is clean.

This unincorporated area of the county has managed to avoid dense urban development because water service hasn't been readily available. However, the LCRA is rapidly approving surface waterlines to complete its master plan which will pave the way for thousands of new homes. In December they approved a highly controversial waterline along Hamilton Pool Road. In January they approved service water to five new developments in Hays County and this month they will be asking their board to approve surface water to Sweetwater, potentially more that 3,000 homes on 1/4 acre lots at Bee Creek Road and Hwy 71.

The LCRA has emphatically positioned itself as an agency that will insist on water quality measures as a condition of supplying utilities to new developments. But Sweetwater, which will densely pack homes of homes along the banks and on the steep slopes above Bee Creek, is destined to pollute the Creek and the waters of Lake Travis beyond. It violates many of the modern design practices for protecting water quality. The developer's strategy is to grandfather the development before new rules are put in place. And the LCRA, despite its earlier propaganda, is apparently not interested in raising the bar for water quality as a condition of supplying utilities to Sweetwater.

Along Hamilton Pool Road, the LCRA insisted that they were responding to a need from existing residents however there are no homeowners requesting water service from the LCRA along Hwy 71 at all. The sole purpose for this waterline is to facilitate new development, is that the role of the LCRA?

Key points
• The LCRA is negotiating a contract to provide a surface waterline to the controversial Lazy 9 MUD which will service Sweetwater. The development has the potential for over 3,000 homes. 585 of these home sites have preliminary approval from the County and another 1200 are pending approval.
• The LCRA made a commitment to seek public input on its master plan in a board resolution last May. The Hwy 71 waterline is a key element in the master plan and they have not sought any public comment on this at all.
• The rationale for bringing surface water into this area has been that existing residents need it and want it. Now the LCRA is negotiating a contract for a surface waterline that will not provide water for ANY existing residents. The sole purpose of this project is to facilitate new development.
• The County currently has no water quality protection measures in subdivision ordinances in the unincorporated areas. For this, they rely on the LCRA.
• The LCRA has acknowledged that the current NPS ordinance is not sufficient for developments of this intensity. A stakeholders group, in which Sweetwater's own engineers are participating, is currently developing new, more effective NPS rules. However, Sweetwater will not be required to meet the new standards. In fact, HCA's engineer doubts that Sweetwater will ever be able to comply with the current NPS ordinance.
• After extreme public outcry, the LCRA added some environmental protections to the HPR waterline contracts. The LCRA has now set a standard for surface water contracts. At the very minimum, HCA requests the same environmental protection for Hwy 71.
• LCRA and Travis County are funding a project to develop a vision and master plan for SW Travis County. Travis County Commissioners Court made it clear to the developers of Sweetwater that they expected all phases beyond phase one to adhere to any new ordinances that came out of this planning process. Sweetwater developers have not honored their commitment to this effort. Instead, Sweetwater developers have filed their second phase with the County which will grandfather them to today's non-existent rules.

Letter written by HCA Engineer, David Venhuizen:

Dear LCRA,

I am given to understand that LCRA may consider a water supply contract with Lazy 9 MUD at its February 16th Board meeting. You should know that to date Lazy 9 MUD has not demonstrated that the first phase of development can comply with LCRA's current NPS ordinance. It is readily conceded by LCRA staff that its current NPS ordinance is not equal to the task of protecting water quality in the face of the massive urban density subdivision developments now being proposed. So it is VERY significant that Lazy 9 has not been able to demonstrate that it can meet even those perhaps too lax standards. For reasons that escape me, this phase was granted preliminary plat approval by Travis County without any evidence that the land plan proposed had in place a stormwater quality management plan or a wastewater management plan that even meets current rules, much less actually protects water quality. I am told, though I have not yet seen the plans, that subsequent phases propose even more intense development, and of course no demonstration of compliance has been completed for those phases either.

Given the current situation, it would be the height of irresponsibility for LCRA to aid and abet this development. At the very least, the developer should be expected to demonstrate that this project would meet all water quality regulations prior to even considering a contract to provide water supply, but it appears that a contract will actually go to the Board prior to Lazy 9 having even demonstrated ability to comply! Further, given LCRA's often stated commitment to preserving water quality as part and parcel of providing water supply, it is suggested that LCRA should begin the negotiations from the position that Lazy 9 should commit to achieving no net increase in pollutants shed from the land being developed, including both the stormwater management plan and the wastewater management plan.

David Venhuizen, P.E.
Planning and Engineering as if Water and Environmental Values Matter

Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin'
-- Bob Dylan

For more information see www.hillcountryalliance.org or call Christy Muse 560-3135