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LCRA drops development limits

Hill Country projects can tie into water lines by meeting new state rules.

Dear FA Friends, Neighbors and Members,

From Tuesday's Statesman is a damning article that typifies the LCRA's
bait and switch behavior we've observed these past few years. While we
often find words like "bait and switch" to be hyperbole or
inappropriate, in this case it is simply the truth, plainly spoken.
We cannot begin to chronicle the number of meetings in the LCRA
boardroom and elsewhere that we attended with staff and/or GM Joe Beal,
where we were assured that these new pipelines would require specific
rules to be followed in order to receive water. And now we are left
with a veritable free for all of development regs for all comers
getting LCRA water in the Hill Country.

Granted, the LCRA points out and has pointed out in the past, that regs
and enforcement of them should be a local government issue, but it has
been their pipelines that have caused the urgent need for these regs.
And it has been their disingenuous reassurances to the community about
their own committment to us, that worked to minimize objections, as
they sought to mollify the community rejections of their plans. At this
they succeeded, as citizens who were unfamiliar with the histrorical
mendacity of the LCRA acquiesced in the wake of their false assurances.
Now, our over-developed roads will be littered with their lies.

Sadly, we all recognize the need for water out here, whether by rain
collection, well or surface supply. But, unlike the financially
motivated LCRA, we who live here tend to understand that there is a
solid relationship between planned growth and its localized economic
and environmental benefits and an obverse relationship with unplanned
growth, it's associated sprawl and subsequent negative affects on our
schools, tax base, home values and environment. Neither of these
relationships actually matter to the LCRA. What does matter to them is
simply having more paying customers, which puts them in direct
opposition with planning. The LCRA has paid lip-service to our concerns
for five years now and their true ideals and unprincipled approach is
now laid bare in the wake of USFWS abdication of oversight to the TCEQ.
While the article makes it sound as though "new state rules" will
takeover, what it fails to explain is that these "state rules" are
virtually non-existant and unenforced, leftover in the backroom deal
cut between Washington and Texas to abandon US Fish & Wildlife Service
monitoring of our area to the TCEQ. Again, a reality that does not mean
"local control" as it should, but rather state sponsored abandonment of
protection guidelines for the Hil Country, as it relates to LCRA
provided water. This ultimately becomes a massive state "agency"
sponsored subsidy of LCRA infrastructure for developers.

Support for and institution of our Regional Water Quality Planning
project of the last year is now more critical than ever. It is now up
to Dripping, Hays County and other municipalites to fill the glaring
vacuum left in the wake of the LCRA.
Please read on.

LOWER COLORADO RIVER AUTHORITY
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/auto/epaper/editions/tuesday/news_243da67da0fe6230001a.html

LCRA drops development limits
Hill Country projects can tie into water lines by meeting new state
rules.

By Stephen Scheibal
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
For years, the Lower Colorado River Authority has dictated the laws of
the land in Central Texas: If you wanted its water, you followed its
rules.

Since 2000, the agency has required developers in environmentally
sensitive parts of the Hill Country to follow federal standards
limiting the density of houses, roads and other hard surfaces.

But federal regulators are no longer enforcing those limits, so neither
is the LCRA, a move that has some people fearing for the health of
endangered species, particularly the Barton Springs salamander.

The river authority announced last week that it will no longer require
builders to meet limits on pavement or building cover. To get water
service, developers now will follow new state standards that don't cap
such density.

The change marks the first ? and, perhaps, most meaningful ? fallout
from a recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow
state environmental officials to enforce new standards that lack
restrictions the agency once considered critical for protecting
endangered species.

"It's significant, and it is troubling," said Daryl Slusher, a former
Austin City Council member who helped lead a Central Texas planning
effort that looked at environmental protections.

LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick said his agency, which manages water
resources in the Colorado River basin, cannot block development that
environmental regulators allow or impose restrictions that
environmental agencies will not.

"The federal government has determined they're not necessary," Cullick
said.

Limits that guided development by LCRA customers for a half-decade
centered on the Barton Springs salamander, which lives only in Austin's
iconic swimming hole and went on the federal endangered species list in
1997.

Rainwater runoff flows across a 371-square-mile watershed along the
Travis-Hays county line before percolating into the underground aquifer
that feeds Barton Springs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with enforcing the
Endangered Species Act and protecting the salamander. Regulators
previously used limits on pavement and other forms of impervious cover
in the watershed to maintain the quality of water flowing into Barton
Springs.

Environmentalists and many scientists believe such hard surfaces can
create pollution themselves or attract it from vehicles and other
sources, plus make it easier for the pollution to enter water streams
through stormwater runoff.

This year, the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized a set of optional
standards that were drafted, and will be enforced, by the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality.

The new standards do not limit impervious cover. However, the Fish and
Wildlife Service and the state environmental commission have said they
will be sufficient to protect water quality in the watershed.

Developers who abide by the standards ? which the state considers
optional ? will be judged to have not harmed the salamander. Those who
don't abide could go through an environmental review with federal
regulators.

The old development rules, on par with Austin's Save Our Springs water
quality ordinance, were best seen in the Fish and Wildlife Service's
partnership with the LCRA.

The restrictions essentially forced developers in the watershed to
limit their projects in exchange for a water supply. The limits were a
key selling point when the LCRA sought support for new water lines in
the watershed.

Harry Savio, executive vice president of the Homebuilders Association
of Greater Austin, said the region is better off following a single set
of regulations established and enforced by the state.

"LCRA is in the water supply business. They're not in the land-use
business," Savio said. And because there are few water options besides
wells for Hill Country developers outside of Austin, he added, "In many
ways, they're becoming the only alternative source."

But the Save Our Springs Alliance, which sued to make sure watershed
developers followed the old rules before receiving LCRA water, said the
change will only hasten a planned lawsuit over the state standards.

"Development will be done differently," SOS lawyer John Fritschie said.
Cullick noted that landowners, activists and government officials
across the region have worked on a growth plan for the watershed that
may offer more protections for water quality and the salamander.

And Slusher said LCRA's decision makes it more important that smaller
governments take action to limit the effects of development on water
quality.

"By bringing the water, LCRA is potentially catalyzing much more growth
over the aquifer," Slusher said. "I think they have a responsibility to
protect water quality as they spark more growth in any area."

It's unclear what will happen if developers who have already agreed to
the development limits decide they want to change or scuttle their
contracts and build projects under the new guidelines.

Cullick said the agency's board would have to decide how it would
handle such an issue.

"I think there's always a difference between people who are in an area
early and people who are in an area later. It's rare that the same set
of rules apply to all development," Cullick said. "Usually, it goes
against the people who wait. This time, they may think it doesn't."

sscheibal@statesman.com; 445-3819


State hearing to discuss Edwards Aquifer

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will hold a hearing today
to receive comments on how the agency should protect the Edwards
Aquifer from pollution. The hearing will be at 9:30 a.m. at the
agency's office complex on Interstate 35 in North Austin: 12100 Park 35
Circle, Building E, Room 201 S.

Optional measures to protect Barton Springs

By voluntarily following a new set of standards, which will be
administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,
developers can avoid potentially difficult reviews by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service of their projects' effects on the Barton Springs
salamander and other endangered species, as well as tap into Lower
Colorado River Authority water lines that run through the Barton
Springs watershed. The new rules:

-Impose no limits on pavement, buildings and other forms of impervious
cover.*

-Protect caves, creeks and other features with buffers.

-Require gates over caves and similar features.*

-Call for devices that trap sediment and pollution.

-Require maintenance records to be submitted every three years.*

* Change from previous Fish and Wildlife Service rules.


Last updated on Wednesday, August 3, 2005 by billc