Mercer Street, Dripping Springs, Texas
The Dripping Springs Keller Williams business center was honored to host the town mayor, the city engineer, and the deputy city administrator one morning a couple of weeks ago at our weekly office meeting. We had invited them to tell us everything they knew about the wastewater situation, both current and future plans. Would you be surprised if I told you I enjoyed the presentation?
Until thirty years ago, Dripping Springs was an unincorporated ranching community that, with the exception of the gas stations along U.S. 290, pretty much aspired to be left alone. Funny what the growth of the nearby metropolitan area did for those aspirations. The mayor joked that, after he was elected, he was surprised to discover that being the mayor of a small town consisted of more than drinking coffee and showing up for parades! Evidently, he has now become an informal expert on municipal wastewater systems.
Dripping Springs’ growth is very dramatic: many thousands of houses are permitted to be built. The current downtown area of Dripping Springs is extremely charming with early 20th-Century buildings being re-purposed for businesses that fit the needs of 21st-Century residents. BUT. The businesses can’t get the building permits they need to expand. WHY? The wastewater treatment system can’t keep up.
The city has applied for a permit from the state to treat and discharge a whole lot more wastewater than it currently does. This city has invested in a system that cleans the water even cleaner than Onion Creek, into which it could discharge the water. Dripping Springs’ wastewater is much cleaner than Austin’s discharge. You would expect that Dripping Springs would be motivated to dump treated wastewater into Onion Creek, but there’s something even better. Developments and subdivisions are contracting to buy the treated effluent to store on their properties for use in landscape and sports field irrigation . The water is being reused in ponds for fishing, and in other surface storage schemes.
Eventually, because water is so precious in this semi-arid region, the city will be able to take this treated effluent and then run it though the water treatment plant for household and business taps in town. This sounds repugnant, until you realize that is exactly what happens to the effluent now, courtesy of natural waterways and ground percolation. City effluent discharged into rivers all over the region, as well as private septic systems spraying or trickling onto the surface, are re-captured by downstream municipalities which treat it for drinking water. What nature does in its own time and place can be duplicated in a more focused way by each municipality.
This attention to wastewater and to drinking water is what will allow the region to sustain the growth it is experiencing.
Now if we could just solve our transportation situation….