Lennar Homes, a renowned national development company, is edging closer to commencing construction on the Guajolote Ranch development, following the approval given by the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The project, which entails the release of millions of gallons of treated wastewater into Helotes Creek, has garnered significant attention due to concerns about its potential impact on the environment and public health.
Spanning across 1,160 acres of land near Scenic Loop Road and Babcock Road, the Guajolote Ranch development is set to feature the construction of 2,900 houses. However, to support this ambitious project, Lennar Homes will need to construct a wastewater plant. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) initially expressed concerns about the project, leading them to withhold wastewater service due to apprehensions about the aquifer. Nevertheless, they were obligated to grant water service.
Annalisa Peace, the executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA), shed light on SAWS’ decision, stating, “They did grant water service because they were required to.” Peace further emphasized that the release of a million gallons of treated sewage into Helotes Creek, which eventually recharges the Edwards Aquifer, could have detrimental effects on the aquifer and, subsequently, the health and habitat of the area.
While the TCEQ executive director’s decision letter stated that the permit application fulfilled the requirements of applicable law, the final decision on whether to approve, modify, or deny the permit rests with the TCEQ commissioners, who will convene for a meeting in the near future. Should the permit be approved, Peace expressed concerns about the potential pollution of the aquifer, emphasizing that the wastewater effluent does not clean itself up even after traveling seven miles.
The Edwards Aquifer is a vital source of drinking water for approximately two million people. Consequently, during a public hearing last year, numerous residents implored the TCEQ commissioners to deny the permit. The opposition to the development extends beyond concerned residents, with the GEAA, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, City of Helotes, City of Grey Forest, and several state lawmakers voicing their objections.
Responding to the mounting criticism, a spokesperson for the TCEQ assured that the permit would come with limitations and conditions aimed at safeguarding human health and aquatic life. However, the TCEQ spokesperson declined an interview with KENS 5 and stated that the application process is still ongoing. Those who commented on the application will have the opportunity to request reconsideration or a hearing until February 12.
Unconvinced by the measures proposed by the TCEQ, Peace affirmed that the GEAA would contest the permit, citing concerns about the quality of the discharged water. On February 7, over 100 landowners from the Grey Forest area attended a meeting to discuss the issue. Ron Green, chairman of the GEAA board, stressed that the outcome of the project was far from certain and encouraged residents to participate in a potential contested case hearing.
Elizabeth Toepperwein, Lynette Munson, and Jane Sams, who reside near the proposed development site, expressed their worries about the potential impact on their properties. Toepperwein raised concerns about the proximity of the wastewater discharge pipes to her fence, stating, “We have been good stewards of the land for nearly 120 years. For seven generations.” Munson, who relies on a shallow well, feared the devastating consequences on her water supply and the erosion of the land.
Michael Schick, whose property borders the Guajolote Ranch, highlighted the potential risks associated with the project, such as airborne pathogens and “forever chemicals.” He criticized the TCEQ’s decision letter, which stated that their goal was not to eliminate contamination but to ensure it does not pose a threat to human health or habitat. Schick argued that this approach failed to fulfill the spirit of the law, which mandates protecting the public from harm.
Despite the growing concerns and opposition, Lennar Homes has yet to respond to requests for comment on the matter. As the deliberations continue and the permit decision looms, the future of the Guajolote Ranch development remains uncertain, with residents and environmental advocates striving to safeguard the aquifer and the well-being of their community.