‘Pepto-Bismol pink’ water in Dripping Springs sparks campaign

In December, pink tap water filled Sharon Darley's bathtub. (Photo: Sharon Darley)
In December, pink tap water filled Sharon Darley's bathtub. (Courtesy: Sharon Darley)

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) – A group of Dripping Spring residents will be gathering Thursday night to begin a campaign to stop the city of Dripping Springs from releasing treated wastewater into Onion Creek.

The city began discussions in 2016 when it applied for a permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to dump 1 million gallons of treated wastewater a day into the creek to keep up with the growing population.

People who live in the area say the water could potentially contaminate the water people drink from their faucets every day. In early December, a dye trace test was conducted by the Hays Trinity Ground Water Conservation District to see how surface water in Onion Creek recharges the Trinity Aquifer. Soon after, one woman noticed her water was pink and was told by plumbers it was due to the dye trace test.

“I thought it was some kind of poison coming from our house or the pipes at first,” said Sharon Darley. “It was Pepto-Bismol pink coming out of our sinks, our facets, the water out here at the barn.”

In December, pink tap water filled Sharon Darley's bathtub. (Photo: Sharon Darley)
In December, pink tap water filled Sharon Darley’s bathtub. (Courtesy: Sharon Darley)

Sharon’s well water comes from the Trinity Aquifer. Residents say the pink water is evidence that dumping treated wastewater into the creek will directly impact some homes that use well water.

“This is a public health issue. This affects our public drinking water and our private drinking water,” said Protect Our Water Board Member Rich Beggs.

Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell responded with a statement saying, “The preliminary dye trace results appear to indicate that there is a connection between some wells in the area and water in Onion Creek. The public water supply wells do not appear to be affected.”

The statement continues by saying only three private wells showed traces of dye from the study.

“Our draft permit includes some of the most stringent effluent limits of any discharge permit in the State of Texas and the level of surface water protection specified in the permit will ensure protection of groundwater quality,” reads Purcell’s statement.

He says the city doesn’t plan to release treated wastewater into Onion Creek anytime soon and are committed to reusing 100 percent of the water between the city’s irrigation land and reuse agreements. The permit provides for a last resort. However, homeowners like Darley say they don’t want it to be an option at all.

“They’re saying that they’re not going to use that unless they need to, but there’s no limits on what need to means. So, there needs to be a plan put in place and certainly more studies done,” she said.

Dripping Springs expects to be in a contested case hearing sometime in late summer. The permit will be issued by TCEQ within six months from the start of the hearing.

For comparison, the city of Austin’s two major wastewater treatment plants release about 100 million gallons of treated water a day into the Colorado River south and east of Austin.

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