‘This could ruin our health’: Property developer’s proposal to pump sewage into Helotes Creek has met with opposition
Lennar Homes, a prominent real estate developer, has come under fire for its plan to pump nearly a million gallons of treated sewage into Helotes Creek each day. The proposal is part of the Guajolote Ranch development project, which involves building 2,900 homes on a 1,160-acre property near Scenic Loop Road and Babcock Road. The project aims to address the housing needs of Bexar County, after San Antonio was recently ranked as the fastest growing city in the country by the US Census Bureau. However, many residents have expressed their concerns and frustration regarding the potential impact on their health and the environment.
Currently, Lennar Homes has applied for a Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which would allow the discharge of wastewater into the creek. A TCEQ spokesman said that developers must meet stringent standards. At a recent public meeting held by the TCEQ to gather input, several hundred residents from Helotes and surrounding areas attended, with dozens lining up to express their anger about the potential effects of the discharge.
One Helotes Creek resident, Jennifer Webster, expressed concern over the impact on her well, which provides her only source of drinking water. She also expressed her worries about the impact the discharge could have on the value of her property and the surrounding wildlife. Her family has owned the banks of Helotes Creek since the 1960s, and Webster has spent her entire life there.
Lennar Homes argues that its plan is more environmentally friendly than installing a septic system. The developer plans to build a treatment plant and release hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated wastewater into the Helotes Creek water system. Troy Hotchkiss, Integrated Water Services’ engineering lead, said the plant would improve the environment by reclaiming the water, an increasingly scarce commodity. The water could be reused for irrigation and other purposes.
Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, disagrees with Lennar Homes’ plan and argues that replenishing the aquifer with wastewater would degrade the water quality. She also criticizes the plan’s potential impact on Bexar County, arguing that wastewater effluent could enter the Edwards Aquifer and ultimately degrade it.
The TCEQ permit application process is lengthy, and officials have stated that it could take several months or even years for a decision to be made. Ronald Green, a groundwater hydrologist, points out that the immediate impacts of the discharge would be felt in the creek itself. Low oxygen levels, algae, and unpleasant odors are just a few of the potential consequences. He also worries that the plan could set a dangerous precedent in northwest Bexar County, leading to more developments and wastewater discharges, which could ultimately threaten the Edwards Aquifer.
Marylee Williams, a Helotes resident, shares these concerns and questions whether there are enough guarantees that the proposed plan won’t cause long-term damage. Williams points out that Helotes Creek meets Leon Creek, which extends through Leon Valley and San Antonio, providing water to many animals. She cites research conducted by Florida University, which shows that the fish harvested from the creek contains several drugs.
Residents of Helotes and surrounding areas have made it clear that they oppose Lennar Homes’ plan to discharge treated wastewater into Helotes Creek. While Lennar Homes argues that the plan is environmentally friendly and necessary to address San Antonio’s growing housing needs, residents argue that the potential risks to their health and the environment are too great. Only time will tell if Lennar Homes’ TPDES permit will be granted by the TCEQ and whether their plan to discharge treated wastewater into Helotes Creek will go ahead.
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