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Water Resources Management: What Do You Do When the Regulator Doesn't Want to Issue a Watershed-Based Permit?

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The San Antonio Water System owns and operates the nation's largest direct recycled water distribution system, which is tied to several major water recycling centers and constructed as a “reuse loop” around almost the entire metropolitan area. In addition to providing recycled water to commercial and industrial customers, the dual-use system also provides streamflow augmentation and environmental enhancement discharges to the San Antonio River and Salado Creek. If operated as planned, effluents from several facilities would be commingled before discharge to receiving waters. Since effluent commingling is not allowed under current permits, SAWS began working with state and federal regulatory agencies in 2002 to develop an innovative, first-of-its-kind integrated municipal permit that would be one of the first issued in support of EPA's Watershed-Based Permitting Policy. It would also support Texas State Water Plan goals for water reuse and provide SAWS with operational flexibility and system redundancy. Initially, state regulators were highly supportive. After four years of negotiations and permit development, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) determined it could not implement EPA's Watershed-Based Permitting Policy because it could potentially lose significant revenues from Water Quality Assessment Fees. In 2006 SAWS received standard permit renewals and was unable to operate the "reuse loop" as planned and constructed for maximum benefit. In 2009 SAWS sought state legislation that would specifically authorize commingling of effluents before discharge for environmental enhancement. Texas House Bill 1922 was approved on June 19, 2009. Subsequently, SAWS staff worked with TCEQ permit writers to ensure that appropriate language from HB 1922 is included in draft permits, which are currently out for public comment.
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Keywords: TPDES permitting; recycling; reuse; water resources; watershed management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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