Johnson Ranch developer trucking sewage out, dumping silt on neighbor's land
By Terri Hall
October 21, 2014
It’s hard to believe there’s a colonia in the Texas Hill Country, but apparently there is at the Johnson Ranch housing development in Bulverde. Since its amended permit for sewage treatment has not been approved, rather than wait until it was, DHJB Development went ahead and started building homes and is currently pumping raw sewage from the homes and hauling it off-site. The Johnson Ranch public elementary school is just 840 feet away. Parents of the children attending the school should know that. It’s highly likely the upscale residents of Johnson Ranch don’t know how their sewage is being handled either.
In order to have the authority to do this pumping and hauling of raw sewage, a lift station must be in operation. According to one environmental services company, “wastewater lift stations are facilities designed to move wastewater from lower to higher elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow.”
No lift station is currently in operation. The proposed Johnson Ranch lift station is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and a 100-year floodplain. Add to that, DHJB’s floodplain permit was rescinded on May 2, 2014 (see letter here). In order to get their floodplain permit approved, DHJB needs to assure the Comal County Engineer that its lift station does not have an adverse impact to the base flood elevation.
The developer has other options, but has chosen not to use them. Since 2010, DHJB has had a permit for subsurface irrigation on its own property. Yet, it had not begun subsurface irrigation and rather chose to pump and haul the sewage. Odd choice for a high-end community. Instead, its pushing to dump its sewage on the neighboring property. Seems DHJB put the cart before the horse. It counted on getting the required permits by now without a whimper of protest from the neighbors, but since the Graham and Lux families are fighting back (read more here and here), unforeseen delays have led DHJB to pump raw sewage and haul it off-site.
Building a lift station over the recharge zone and in a floodplain is bad, but building one over the recharge zone, in a floodplain, right next to the dry creek of the adjacent Graham-Lux ranch is the worst possible location for the lift station. It is not unusual for a lift station to malfunction and overflow. This would put raw sewage into the recharge zone and possibly into the dry creek on the Graham-Lux property. The lift station is about 700 feet from one of their wells used for drinking water and livestock.
Silt water dumped into neighbor’s dry creek
Then on Friday, October 3, thousands of gallons of silt-laden water were intentionally forced from the Johnson Ranch development onto the Graham-Lux property. It is one thing when silt is released to the channel due to a rain storm. It is quite another when silt-laden water is intentionally forced from the neighboring developer onto another’s property. The channel on the Graham-Lux property was dry when they arrived for a survey that afternoon. When coming back to their truck, they were greeted with the scene in the above photo - a flood of silt-laden water. Such an action is illegal, yet the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is nowhere to be found.
It appears the TCEQ only wishes to utilize its vast powers to take control of the Graham-Lux property from them and turn it over to select others in a land grab. The TCEQ will decide whether or not to approve the amended permit of DHJB to allow potentially up to 350,000 gallons a day of treated sewage to flow onto the Graham-Lux property from the equivalent of 1,500 new homes at Johnson Ranch. The treated sewage would flow into the Cibolo Creek. Though the sewage run-off is strictly to benefit a private developer and is not a public use, TCEQ still claims it’s waters of the state and therefore belongs to the state, if it approves the amended permit. TCEQ should be using its powers to prevent damage to natural resources, the job it was chartered by the legislature to do, which it is not doing on the Graham-Lux property.
Flagrant violation of law
The development has construction site permits that are associated with large construction projects anywhere, just as public entities like the Texas Department of Transportation require its contractors to take measures (ie - hay bales, silt fences) to prevent silt run-off from escaping its work sites on its highway projects. In addition, the Johnson Ranch development has a Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP). Since some of this project is over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, part of the WPAP is also an Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan (EAPP). So the developers actions are in violation of all of these plans as well as the Federal Clean Water Act that are put in place to prevent such damaging run-off. This was an intentional, willful, and flagrant violation of the law.
Silt release poses a major threat to water quality. The U.S .Department of Agriculture has paid farmers for years not to farm what is considered highly erodible soils, because of the threat of silt-laden water to overall water quality. It’s also designed to protect the soil quality. Generally speaking, the Texas Hill Country ranks high on the list for highly erodible soils. Silt in stormwater run-off changes watercourses over time. The released silt ends up in rivers, bays, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. The consequences of all of this is reduced life in the these water bodies. In the Hill Country, in particular, recharge features can be clogged by silt and prevent recharge. Silt must be removed from drinking water at a large cost.
Texans have been programmed to think their property rights are protected in Texas, where they’re considered sacred. Yet, in the small town of Bulverde, the front porch of the Texas Hill Country, DHJB Development has teamed up with a state agency to not only heist private property, but also to degrade the water quality for many Texans. Up until now, it’s been with impunity. To help the Graham and Lux families keep their property and prevent further damage to their land and cattle, support them by contributing to a legal fund that’s been set-up for the Lux family, please mail to: Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) at PO Box 15618, San Antonio, Texas 78212, or contribute online here. Be sure to write "Contested Discharge Permit" in the memo line on the check.