SALADO — Officials are raising red flags over a proposed wastewater treatment plant near the Bell-Williamson county line.

M.L. Development of Pattison — a small city west of Houston in Waller County — submitted an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a wastewater treatment plant. The company is proposing to build the plant at the intersection of Hackberry Drive and Interstate 35 near the small unincorporated community of Prairie Dell.

Local officials’ beef with the proposed Salado Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant is where the water will be discharged: A natural drainage channel that connects directly into Salado Creek and the Edwards Aquifer.

The plant is expected to treat 250,000 gallons of effluent every day. That is roughly the same amount Salado’s wastewater treatment plant will treat when it is completed.

“If there was a spillage, it would never get to the creek. It would go into the direct conduit into the aquifer,” said Dirk Aaron, the general manager of the Belton-based Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District.

That spillage Aaron mentioned would not go unnoticed.

There are nine public water supply wells south of Salado that tap into the Edwards Aquifer — or, as Aaron puts it, “the lifeblood of this community.”

“Being on a direct conduit, the potential discharge ... could contaminate it,” Aaron said. “It would not be days, but minutes before we even realize it entered into our water supply.”

Additionally, by discharging directly into the aquifer, the proposed wastewater treatment plant would threaten the ecosystem for the Salado salamander — a vulnerable species already being threatened by the loss of its habitat.

“If we stub our toe on something like this and we have a spill, I think we might be forced into another type of regulatory mechanism — such as a habitat conservation plan, which are expensive,” Aaron said.

Clearwater also brought up a technicality on the Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant application that did not meet requirements mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. M.L. Development placed a public notice about its wastewater application in the Aug. 2 edition of the Salado Village Voice.

However, TCEQ requires public notices to be placed in the most circulated newspaper in the affected area, Aaron said. For this project, the Temple Daily Telegram and its sister publication, the Killeen Daily Herald, would be the most circulated newspapers in which the notice should have been published, Aaron said.

Clearwater’s concerns regarding this proposed wastewater treatment plant were submitted to TCEQ in an effort for M.L. Development to reconsider where it discharges treated effluent.

“We’re outlining in those comments that we don’t want to be … an impediment to property rights. We don’t need to be an impediment to development. But we do need to weigh in on the specificity,” Aaron said.

Others voice concerns

Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown brought this situation to Clearwater’s attention. He wrote a letter to TCEQ outlining Bell County’s concerns on the Salado Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“It has been recognized that this is an environmentally sensitive system, and a diverse group of stakeholders, including Bell County, are committed to responsible stewardship,” Brown wrote. “For this reason, we are compelled to protest the proposed discharge of treated effluent under the permit in question.”

Hydrogeologist Joe Yelderman also wrote a letter to TCEQ. He listed three reasons for why a better discharge solution is needed rather than making the wastewater permit more restrictive.

“All wastewater treatment plants are vulnerable to periodic failures and overflows. The wastewater treatment plant does not contain treatment limits for emerging contaminants, which may be harmful to the aquifer organisms and people,” Yelderman stated. “Wastewater treatment plants, once constructed, are often enlarged as demands increase, and the rapid growth in this area will increase demands.”

Public comments

Because of the potential impact on Salado and the county’s aquifers, state Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, requested that TCEQ hold a public hearing on M.L. Development’s application.

Don Ferguson, the village administrator of Salado, said TCEQ notified Cosper’s office that it will grant the legislator’s request for a public meeting. When and where in Salado that hearing will be held has not been determined, Ferguson said.

Residents, however, do not need to wait for that hearing to comment on the project. They can submit comments on TCEQ’s website at http://bit.ly/2NUxRrS and typing WQ0015664001 — the permit application number.

Possible solutions

The affected stakeholders emphasized there are other alternatives to the proposed discharge location.

Clearwater has proposed three potential solutions for how to deal with Salado Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant’s discharge.

“One option would be for the development to discharge the effluent at a location that does not flow across the Edwards Aquifer outcrop,” Aaron wrote in a letter to TCEQ. “Based on (a) review of the local topography, the outfall would need to be piped to a location east of the potential development … ”

The second solution Clearwater suggested is for M.L. Development to work with a property owner to create a storage system for the treated water and use it for irrigating crops.

“The developer may also choose to treat the effluent to a higher water quality standard prior to discharge,” Aaron wrote. “The higher effluent quality could be guided by the requirements for the Edwards in other parts of Texas.”

San Antonio-based WGA Civil & Municipal Engineering Land Development is providing the engineering for the Salado Vista Wastewater Treatment Plant project. WGA already has reached out to sit down and discuss possible solutions for the discharge issue, Aaron said.

The engineers, Aaron stressed, want to work with stakeholders to find a solution.

‘They’re not talking about it’

Salado Mayor Skip Blancett questioned the purpose of the wastewater treatment plant south of the village.

“How big is this development? Is it houses or retail?” he asked.

Ferguson said not much is known about this project.

“We don’t have any details on the development right now. They’re not talking about it,” Ferguson said. “All they’ve filed is the (TCEQ) application. That’s what’s even more troubling. It’s kind of like they’ve thrown this hand grenade in the water to see if it creates a splash.”