Monday, October 27, 2014

Ceres Newsletter: New Report Shows Insurers Unprepared to Address Climate Risk

Ceres Newsletter -
October 2014

New Report Shows Insurers Unprepared to Address Climate Risk
Hurricane Sandy Damage 1Though insurers are on the front line of climate risks, many insurance companies are not prepared to address climate risks and opportunities. Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey Report & Scorecard: 2014 Findings & Recommendations, a new report from Ceres, ranks property & casualty, health and life & annuity insurers on a half-dozen climate related indicators, using a four-tier scoring system, with "Leading," "Developing," "Beginning" and "Minimal" grades.
The report found strong leadership among fewer than a dozen companies, with 276 of the 330 companies receiving "Beginning" or "Minimal" ratings.
"As key regulators of this sector, we strongly encourage insurance industry leaders and investors who own these companies to take this challenge far more seriously," said Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who wrote the report foreword and chairs the NAIC's Climate Change and Global Warming Working Group. "The insurance industry is uniquely positioned as the bearer of risk to make adjustments now to lessen dramatic impacts we know are coming. This is not a partisan issue, it's a financial solvency issue and a consumer protection issue."
Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey Report & Scorecard: 2014 Findings & Recommendations also includes recommendations for insurance companies and regulators.
Learn more.
Download the report.
Businesses and Investors Come Together to Support Global Climate Action During NYC Climate Week Climate March NYCLast month's NYC Climate Week and the UN Climate Summit garnered global attention. More than ever before, the business community was loud and clear about the urgency for climate action, making strong commitments to reduce their own impact while advocating for strong national and global policies to tackle climate change.
The actions and events at Climate Week highlighted the urgency needed to limit global temperature increases and avoid catastrophic climate change and that businesses, investors, and policymakers are ready to seize the opportunities presented by climate risk.
Ceres will be building on the momentum of Climate week to mobilize even more business leadership in the run up to the climate negotiations taking place in Paris next year.
Network Highlights
Company Network
Coca-Cola's 2013/2014 Sustainability Report, prepared in conformance with the GRI G4 guidelines, describes a new goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the "drink in your hand" by 25 percent by 2020. Recognizing that only 10 percent of the footprint is connected to its own manufacturing processes, Coca-Cola is finalizing the development of metrics and processes to use in collaboration with its suppliers to reduce emissions throughout the beverage value chain, from the supply of raw ingredients to the packaging, distribution, and refrigeration of Coca-Cola products. PepsiCo recently demonstrated the strength of its commitment to address climate change when it became the largest U.S.-based food and beverage company to sign the Ceres Climate Declaration. In conjunction with the release of its 2013 Sustainability Report , PepsiCo announced an additional climate mitigation goal focused on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a chemical coolant that is a highly potent greenhouse gas. By 2020, PepsiCo will ensure that all future point-of-sale equipment (coolers, vending machines and fountain dispensers) purchased in the United States will be HFC-free, consistent with its existing international practice of ensuring that all new equipment uses 100 percent HFC-free insulation.
Learn more about the Ceres Company Network
Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP)
Climate Declaration Reaches 1,000 business signatories
Business giants PepsiCo and Kellogg's signed onto Ceres' Climate Declaration, a corporate call to action for strong climate policies that now has more than 1,000 company signatories. Check out the new Climate Declaration website launched during climate week, showcasing how companies are going beyond signing the Climate Declaration to reduce their own climate impacts and advocating for national action to tackle climate change. Kellogg Company and Nestlé Join BICEP
We are excited to announce two new members, Kellogg Company and Nestlé, have joined BICEP to advocate for innovative climate and clean energy policies.
Please join us in welcoming our newest members!
Learn more about BICEP

Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR)
Welcome to Three New INCR Members
We are excited to announce three new asset owners have joined our network, McKnight Foundation, The University of California and the Episcopal Church Pension Fund. Please join us in welcoming our newest members!
Investors Call for Action on Climate Change
Nearly 350 global investors managing over $24 trillion in assets called on world leaders to adopt strong climate polices to accelerate global clean energy investments. The Global Investor Statement, developed and led through a collaboration between INCR and investor networks around the world, calls for a meaningful price on carbon and an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and highlights the key role of investors in financing solutions to climate change.
Learn more about INCR

Friday, October 24, 2014

Register Now for the2014 Texas Hill Country Water Summit on December 5th Hill Country Water Summit

Promoting awareness of the precious water resources of the Texas Hill Country. Discussion of strategies for short and long term challenges.
Click here for the Flyer...
Click here for the Agenda...
Friday, December 5, 2014, 8 AM to 5 PM
GVTC Auditorium
36101 FM 3159
Smithson Valley, TX 78070
$25.00 Registration fee, including lunch.
Registration deadline is November 21, 2014. Seating is limited.
Registration fees are non-refundable.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coalition builds deal to buy, preserve 1,500 acres near famed bat cave

October 9, 2014 | Updated: October 10, 2014 1:56pm
Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — After more than a year of cobbling together a deal, a group of public officials and private organizations will buy 1,500 acres near Bracken Cave, the seasonal home for millions of bats, and prevent any future development there, officials said.

Galo Properties has agreed to sell the land for $20.5 million, said San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who has been spearheading the effort. More than $15 million has been lined up so far, although final approval still is needed for some of the money.

“It just took persistence, because when people realized what this was all about, it was just a matter of figuring out how we could pool our resources,” Nirenberg said.

The property, when combined with an adjacent parcel north of San Antonio purchased through a similar deal in 2011, creates about 2,800 acres of land preserved in the past three years that supporters of the deal say will protect the bats, their cave, endangered golden-cheeked warblers and San Antonio's water supply.

The funding for the new deal comes in part from Bat Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, which will jointly own and manage the property and together have raised $5 million.

The City Council will vote Thursday to allocate $5 million from the city's aquifer protection fund for the property, which is in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. That money, known as Prop. 1 funding, comes from a 1/8th-cent sales tax approved by voters.

Nirenberg, who represents a Northwest Side district, said he's confident the council will approve the funding.

And a developer, Forestar Group, is putting in $5 million in return for credits that will allow it to have denser development elsewhere or that it can sell to other developers.

BCI, which owns Bracken Cave, and the conservancy are responsible for raising the rest of the money. The conservancy also took out a loan so the group could finalize the deal, which is expected to close on Halloween.

Andrew Walker, executive director of BCI, said the coalition was not taking anything for granted before all the money was in place. But he added that “it feels really good.”

The property sits just south of Bracken Cave, where millions of female bats come from Mexico every spring to give birth and rear their pups before flying south in the fall.

Negotiations over the land, which is in unincorporated Comal County and in San Antonio's extraterritorial jurisdiction, have become enmeshed with a larger discussion about how to balance conservation as the region grows.

Galo had proposed building a subdivision with more than 2,500 homes on the parcel.

Opponents of development argued the property is a vital foraging area for young bats learning to fly and that the cave itself is particularly vulnerable because it serves as a nursery.

They also raised concerns about the possible consequences of a new residential development under the flight path of so many bats, saying potential rabies cases could lead people to turn against the bats and bat conservation generally.

Supporters of development have pointed out that bats and people coexist in other places and argued that BCI's estimate that more than 10 million bats use the cave — the group says it's the largest colony in the world — could be overstated.

Besides voting whether to spend the $5 million in Prop. 1 funding at its meeting Thursday, the City Council would have to approve measures related to Forestar's contribution.

Pending the council vote, Forestar will get 86 acres worth of impervious cover credits in exchange for its $5 million, city documents show. Up to half of those could be used at Forestar's Cibolo Canyons development, allowing for denser building there.

The San Antonio Water System also has to approve the transfer of the impervious cover credits.
Neither Galo nor Forestar responded to requests for comment.

Other agencies that have committed or intend to give to the conservancy to help it complete the purchase of the land include Bexar County, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and the U.S. Army.
Bexar County and the EAA are expected to contribute $500,000 each, while the Army will provide about $100,000, officials said.

The Army's interest lies not with the bats, but with birds. It's concerned development in the area could push the endangered warblers to Camp Bullis, making it harder to use it for training.

In 2011, Bexar County spent $5 million to buy more than 1,200 acres adjacent to the property now in question to create a preserve for the warblers. The Army pitched in $2 million, and Forestar also was involved.

The latest deal to buy the 1,500 acres from Galo almost fell through several times, most notably when a Dallas-based land investment manager, Stratford Land, announced it had plans to buy the land in December 2013. But it backed out for unexplained reasons.

Throughout the process, proposals to either buy a portion of the property or try to negotiate a deal so development would be limited were discussed, especially because it was taking so long to get money in line for the whole parcel.

But people involved with the purchase said the deal to buy the land reflected what can happen when different groups have the same goal.

“This is just a terrific example of partners coming together, working hard on a very complicated conservation deal,” said Laura Huffman, state director of the Nature Conservancy, noting that the land was too expensive for any one group to buy.

Nirenberg added that he hopes the purchase will be a model for addressing regional challenges.
“A regionally collaborative solution ... what a great story to tell for ... the state of Texas,” he said.

Place your bid to help Hill Country Schools promote conservation

Join us this Saturday for the 5th Annual Rainwater Revival, 10:00am to 4:00pm in Dripping Springs.

The 5th Annual Rainwater Revival is almost here! Join us this Saturday for a full day of education, entertainment and celebration.
The Rainwater Revival is a day long edu-fest where you can learn all about rainwater harvesting and water conservation from expert speakers, get advice and services from knowledgeable exhibitors, enjoy local treats and live music, and let the little ones create and learn at the Raindrop Stop.
Saturday's Rainwater Revival is also your last opportunity to view and bid on your favorite custom-painted rain barrels in this year's Rain Barrel Art Auction. Bidding has already begun at Proceeds from the auction will fund grants for Hill Country Schools to be used for rainwater harvesting projects and water conservation education. You can also make a donation toward this worthy cause by visiting the auction site.
The Rainwater Revival will be on come rain or shine. We hope to see you there!
Check out the beautiful barrels from this year's Rain Barrel Art Auction: Bid now!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Texas Sees Significant Decline in Rural Land | The Texas Tribune

Texas Sees Significant Decline in Rural Land

The vast majority of Texas land — 83 percent — is part of a farm, ranch or forest. But Texas is losing such rural land more than any other state, in large part because of the exploding growth of metropolitan areas, according to newly released data. 
Scientists say that has serious implications for Texas' water supply because such acreage — known as "working lands" or "open space" lands — helps the state retain water resources by letting rain infiltrate the ground and circulate into aquifers. 
The map below shows the results of the latest Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources survey on land trends, which is performed every five years. According to the survey, Texas lost about 1 million acres of open space lands between 1997 and 2012. Click on a county in the map below to see how its open space acreage has changed. 

A majority of the land loss happened in the growing urban areas around Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. 
“Those lands are basically providing a public benefit in terms of water storage” and aquifer recharge, said Roel Lopez, director of the A&M institute and a co-author of the survey. “A good pastureland is like a sponge, versus a parking lot, which is actually like a rock. That rain just runs off, and it’s hard to capture it.”
At the same time, the market value of land is increasing in almost every Texas county, but it’s increasing the most in the booming metropolitan areas. Travis County, for example, lost almost a quarter of its open space while land gained an average of $8,297 per acre in value between 1997 and 2012. Click on a county in the map below to see the changes in market value. 

 Change in Market Value

In Texas, where more than 95 percent of land is privately owned, there are unique challenges for the conservation of open space lands. As land gets more expensive, those who own open spaces will have more of an incentive to sell their acres to developers. And governments trying to conserve land by buying up open spaces will have to spend more money to do so. 
Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 2014 Aquifer Bulletin Now Available

The October 2014 Aquifer Bulletin is now available.   
Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District 
staff have collaborated to put together a wide range 
of articles dealing with hot topics these days.

Topics include: 
Summer Groundwater Roller Coaster
Discussion of unusual in-and-out of drought declarations this summer.
Permitting Summary
Summary of Mar-Sept 2014 permits.
From the GM’s Desk
Discussion of Legislative groundwater activity and possible impact of proposed bills.
Wells & Seller’s Disclosure Notice
Changes made to inform buyers, sellers, and realtors for properties with wells.
Updated Hydro Zones
A new look at all areas that influence the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards.
Traces of the Past
A historic account of an early dye trace.
Conservation Rate Structures
A look at water rates to encourage conservation.
Recent Well Drilling Activity
A look at trends in the District and Travis Counties
Precinct 2 Director Election Information
Links to information about election day and early voting locations

Valuing Every Drop: Join Ceres in Protecting Scarce Water Resources
Our Work
Visit the Ceres website to learn more about our work Valuing Every Drop.

Ceres' water initiatives focus on three key sectors - water utilities, oil and gas, and agriculture. Together, these sectors are responsible for more than 90% of water consumption in the United States.
Press & Media
Ceres 25th Anniversary Story: Getting Smarter About Water Use, Ceres

Interview: Q&A with Sharlene Leurig on financing water conservation, The Texas Tribune
Blog Post: The Quest for Sustainable Corn in Iowa, National Geographic
Video: Ceres' Barton Discusses Water, Climate Risks Facing U.S. Corn Sector, E&E TV
Blog Post: Does Water Conservation Have to Be the Enemy of Financial Stability, National Geographic
Article: Hydraulic Fracturing, Lessons from the US, China Water Risk
Thank you for your support
Like every drop, every donation helps keep our work flowing.
Please consider a gift to Ceres today!
Donate Button
Bond Financing Distributed Water Systems
Across the U.S., communities are planning major investments in water conservation and green stormwater infrastructure to manage droughts and floods. While these distributed approaches to managing water are often more cost-effective than building new reservoirs, pipelines, tunnels and treatment plants, figuring out how to fund them is challenged by old financing structures. With limited cash available for distributed water solutions, it is no surprise that these types of investments struggle to keep pace with debt-financed centralized infrastructure. This report asks the question, can we learn from U.S. cities how to make better use of the bond market to finance distributed infrastructure? Read the report.
Measuring and Mitigating Water Revenue Variability
As water utilities across North America look to finance the replacement and expansion of outdated water delivery systems, the need for confident revenue projections grows. This report examines real financial and water use data from three North American water utilities to demonstrate how rate structures can mitigate or intensify revenue variability. It also introduces alternative financial and pricing strategies that can assist water utilities in stabilizing revenue without compromising their commitment to water conservation.
Read the report.

Get in Touch
Share your stories with Ceres and stay in touch with our team by email.
Twitter Bird LogoAnd follow our experts on Twitter:
Dear friends, Last month 400,000 people - including representatives of the world's largest companies and financial firms  - came together in New York City to march and raise their voices in support of climate action. Climate change is poised to affect every aspect of our economy and our lives - including the vital water supplies we all depend on. At Ceres, we are working to elevate the voice of businesses and investors in support of tackling climate change and protecting freshwater for the future.
Increasingly, this means grappling with the trade-offs posed by the growing collision between energy development and strained water supplies. It means moving away from water utility revenue models that emphasize ever-increasing water sales in times of intensifying droughts. It means identifying ways for farmers who supply major food companies to irrigate their fields with less water while also saving energy.
I believe that we are making progress on all these fronts. Although there is still much to do, with your partnership we can build an economy that is truly sustainable.
Brooke Barton New BrookeSignature
Brooke Barton
Water Program Director
News & Updates
Examining Water Risks as Hydraulic Fracturing Goes Global
Over 3,600 scientists, government representatives and businesses people from 140 countries came together last month at World Water Week in Stockholm to find solutions to the growing conflict between our energy and water demands. Ceres' Monika Freyman presented insights on water supply risks in regions of significant hydraulic fracturing and highlighted relevant lessons learned from the U.S. as shale energy development is poised to go global. Watch a video of the session.

Amidst Devastating Drought, California Companies Take Action 
Driscolls FarmIt's in the news and on the minds of many - the ongoing drought in California, now entering its fourth year. In the face of growing water constraints, some California companies are advancing innovative solutions for reducing water use and stewarding resources for the future success of their businesses, communities and natural systems:
  • PG&E is helping Central Valley farmers reduce their water and electricity use at the same time - saving both resources and money;
  • Driscoll's Berries has partnered with local landowners, farmers and government agencies to help solve the Pajaro Valley's groundwater crisis;
  • KB Home is building "Double Zero" homes in Antelope Valley that are both energy and water efficient, using less than half the water of an average home;
  • Campbell's, which processes 14 million pounds of tomatoes every day at its plant in Dixon, California, is working with local farmers to reduce water use by 20% per pound of tomato by 2020.
Save the Date: Ceres' 2015 Conference
May 13-14, 2015
San Francisco, CA

Join us at the annual Ceres Conference next May 13-14 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Each year the conference brings together more than 600 corporate sustainability leaders, the country's largest institutional investors, and leading social and environmental advocates to mobilize action on the world's most significant sustainability challenges, including water. Registration opens in December.
Scaling Up Distributed Water Solutions
Wednesday, November 5
2:00-3:00 pm ET

Cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles are planning to spend billions of dollars on distributed water projects - including landscaping irrigation retrofits, stormwater infiltration and water-efficient building systems - to augment their water supplies and help them meet clean water mandates. This webinar explores how some of the largest U.S. cities are using bonds to fund distributed infrastructure.
Learn more and register here.
Wait, you missed it? Explore Ceres' Agricultural Stranded Assets webinar
In September, Ceres hosted a webinar on the Environmental Drivers of Stranded Assets and Volatility in Agricultural Markets with guest speakers from the Smith School of Enterprise and GMO Renewable Resources.
Download the presentation here.
Ceres is an advocate for sustainability leadership that mobilizes a powerful network of investors, companies and public interest groups to build a sustainable global economy.
Ceres is a non-profit organization. All gifts are tax deductible. Ceres has received high ratings from charity watchdog groups, a reflection of our effectiveness, integrity and impact.
Donate now
99 Chauncy Street, 6th Floor
Boston, MA 02111

Waterblogue A conversation about sustainable water by David Venhuizen

Can Dripping Springs, and developers there, bust out of the 19th century?

Or will they choose to remain stuck there. Because, you know, that is a choice they are free to make.
It’s a simple proposition, really. If your aim is to maximize use of the water resource we mistakenly call “wastewater” to defray demands on the area’s water supplies, then it just makes sense to design the “waste” water system around that principle. It doesn’t make sense to instead use a large majority of the money dedicated to this function to build a large-scale system of pipes and pump stations focused on making what’s misperceived as a nuisance to go “away”, then to spend even more money on another large-scale system of pipes and pumps to run the reclaimed water back to where it came from in the first place!

That’s the standard MO of our mainstream institutions, like the City of Dripping Springs and the engineers who advise it and developers whose projects would feed into the city’s centralized wastewater system. This centralized management concept was a response to the conditions considered paramount in the 19th century. The industrial revolution was in full force, city populations were exploding, the stuff was littering the streets, creating a stench and a serious threat of epidemic disease. The response was to pipe it “away”, to be deposited in the most conveniently available water body. Later, as it was realized those water bodies were being turned into foul open sewers, creating a threat of disease in downstream cities that withdrew their water supplies from them, treatment at the end of the pipe was considered, and eventually adopted as the standard.

The intellectual leadership of the centralized pipe-it-away strategy was centered in well-watered areas like northern Europe and the northeastern and midwestern areas of the US. So the resource value of that “waste” water was never part of the equation. This water, and the nutrients it contains, was viewed solely and exclusively as a nuisance, to be made to go to that magical place we call “away” – the working definition of which is apparently “no longer noticeable by me.” This centralized pipe-it-away strategy became institutionalized as the manner in which cities manage wastewater.
Of course, that strategy flies in the face of the circumstances confronting us here in Central Texas in the 21st century – that water, all water, is a valuable resource which we can no longer afford to so cavalierly waste by addressing it solely and exclusively as if it were just a nuisance, simply because that is what the prevailing mental model dictates. Rather, it’s imperative we practically maximize the resource value of that water, using it to defray demands on the area’s water supplies, which are being stressed by both chronic drought and population growth.

In the Texas Hill Country, we also have an issue with surface discharge of wastewater, even when treated to the highest standards that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has so far formulated. And before proceeding I’d note that this issue would remain even if the whole system were to operate perfectly all the time. But of course, it will not; there will inevitably be “incidents”. Which brings up the issue of the vulnerability created by centralization. I’ve often said, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, that the real point of regionalization – TCEQ-speak for centralizing flow from as far and wide as can be attained – is to gather all this stuff together at one point where it can really do some damage. Indeed, the whole organizational strategy is a “vulnerability magnet”. Large flows being run through one treatment plant or one lift station or one transmission main means that any mishap may create large impacts.

Back to the issue with discharge in the Hill Country, the major problem is those nutrients in the wastewater, in particular nitrogen. A discharge of the magnitude that an expanded Dripping Springs system would create, centralizing wastewater flow from developments for miles around the city in every direction, would make the receiving stream effluent-dominated. This would be partly an artifact of the drawdown of local aquifers drying up springs and thus reducing natural streamflow – again highlighting how critical it is to defray demands on these local water resources – but in larger part due simply to the magnitude of the wastewater flow. Highlighting the problematic nature of “permitted pollution” when the flow has been centralized so that, even with low concentration limits, the mass loadings may still be “large”. The nitrogen would cause chronic algal blooms in the creeks, making them very green most of the time, and then depleting oxygen in the water when the algae die off, degrading the riparian environment.

This is deemed an aesthetic affront by downstream landowners. But even more critical, the stream that would receive Dripping Springs’ discharge is Onion Creek, a major source of recharge to the Edwards Aquifer. That’s a sole source aquifer supplying water to about 60,000 people and is the source of Barton Springs, which is home to endangered species. So there’s great antipathy to any plan by Dripping Springs to discharge.

The “standard” option is to continue to “land apply” the effluent from its wastewater treatment plant – “irrigating” land for the sole purpose of making the water go “away” rather than to enhance the landscape or grow a cash crop – which the city does under its current permit. This practice is more accurately termed “land dumping”, and in this region, in this time, it is an unconscionable waste of this water resource.

At least discharge would have some utility, providing more constant flow in the creek, enhancing the riparian environment, and a more constant recharge of the Edwards Aquifer. That is, it would have utility if the water were to be treated to a standard that would preclude the “insults” noted above.
In regard to nutrients, that is technically possible – albeit unlikely to be required by TCEQ – but it would be quite expensive. Burnet discovered that treating to a higher standard to allow them to discharge into Hamilton Creek, which eventually flows into the Highland Lakes, would add about $10 million to the cost of their treatment plant. But that still won’t attain the high removal rate demanded for discharge into Hill Country creeks that recharge the Edwards Aquifer.
But nutrients aren’t all there is to be concerned about. There are also “contaminants of emerging concern” – pharmaceuticals, in particular endocrine disruptors. What it would cost to make discharge “safe” in this regard is an open question – another subject for another time. Suffice it to note here that TCEQ has no standards addressing these pollutants, thus there is no requirement to even consider what might be “safe”.

The latest word is that the overwhelming dissatisfaction with a discharge scheme has urged Dripping Springs to drop its plans to seek a discharge permit – for the present. It’s unclear if that means it would just expand its “land dumping” system (a rather costly proposition, due to the land requirements, so Dripping Springs might soon decide that’s just too expensive and would request a permit to discharge). Or would the city pursue any and all opportunities to route the treated effluent to beneficial reuse? Likely mainly within the developments generating the flow as few other opportunities have been identified, the 8-acre city park being the only one mentioned in the version of the Preliminary Engineering Planning Report (PERP) the city released last summer.

Which brings us to how the city would create a system plan predicated on beneficial reuse of this water resource to defray demand on other water supplies. The city appears to be leaning toward simply appending onto the already costly 19th century conventional centralized wastewater system another whole set of costly infrastructure to redistribute the water, once treated, back to the development that generated it. Note, however, that as TCEQ presently interprets its rules, the city will still be required to have a full-blown “disposal” system in place regardless of how much of that water they expect to route to beneficial reuse, making that whole concept somewhat problematic if indeed no discharge option would be sought. This focus of TCEQ rules, as currently applied, on “disposal” of a perceived nuisance, to the exclusion of focusing on integrated management of water resources, is an issue for any sort of plan the city may consider, highlighting the need to press TCEQ to reconsider that focus.

Indeed the city’s centralized plan would be costly. Dripping Springs is keeping its present engineering analyses close to the vest, but according to the version of the PERP released last summer, the three interceptor mains in that plan – denoted “east”, “west” and “south” (leaving us to wonder what will be done with development that may occur to the north) – and their associated lift stations would have a total cost of about $17.5 million. These are costs, along with the estimated $8.1 million for treatment plant expansion and an estimated $1 million for permitting, that must be sunk into the system prior to being able to provide service to the first house in the developments this system would cover. Then there is the cost of centralized collection infrastructure within the developments, to get their wastewater to those interceptors, no doubt running into the 10’s of millions at complete buildout.

And for this, all they get is “disposal” of a perceived nuisance!
With, as noted, the issue of how the water would be “disposed of”, if it is not discharged, still to be resolved – and paid for. If it is to be redistributed back to the far flung developments generating the flow, the facilities to do that will add many more millions to the overall cost of the complete system.
Far less costly, in both up-front and long-term costs, would be the creation of a 21st century system that would be designed around reuse, rather than “disposal”, of this water resource right from its point of generation. The city could pursue a decentralized concept strategy, focused on treatment and reuse of this water as close to where it is generated as practical, obviating the high cost of both the conventional centralized collection system and the reclaimed water distribution system.
Entailing a number of small-scale systems designed into rather than appended onto development, it is highly doubtful that the city could unilaterally impose that sort of system. The large developments around Dripping Springs are all planning – indeed they have obtained TCEQ permits for – smaller conventional centralized systems within each of them, featuring “land dumping” as the intended fate of the water. In fact, Dripping Springs has “sponsored” the permit for one of those developments, so is actively promoting this strategy. The development agreement with another large project specifies that the wastewater generated in that development must be run into the city interceptor whenever it is built, despite the development-scale system being in place. So if the city does develop interceptors that would drain wastewater from those developments to an expanded centralized plant, then these development-scale systems would be stranded assets, sunk costs incurred simply to allow development to begin prior to completion of the city interceptor, then to be abandoned, basically wasting the fiscal resources required to install them.

It’s clear then that Dripping Springs could pursue a decentralized concept strategy to expand service capacity to encompass those developments only if each of them were to cooperate in planning, designing, permitting and implementing the decentralized system, instead of those development-scale centralized systems they’re presently planning to build. But of course, unless Dripping Springs presumes a leadership role, the developers have no impetus to consider that. They must presume they’d have to abandon any sort of development-scale system and run their wastewater “away” into the city’s centralized system whenever interceptors were extended to their properties.
To pursue a decentralized concept strategy it must be determined how such a system would be organized and how it could be permitted, given the “disposal”-centric focus of how TCEQ wields its rule system. This is a complex subject that does not well lend itself to this medium. Complicated by the decentralized concept remaining “non-mainstream” despite it having been out there for quite a long time – I defined the decentralized concept in 1986, and it was “ratified” as a fully legitimate strategy in a 1996 report to Congress, among other milestones – so its means and methods remain largely unfamiliar to regulators, engineers and operating authorities. Further, being designed into rather than appended onto development, the details would be sensitive to context; while there are recognized organizing principles, there is no “one size fits all” formula.

For the interested reader, a broad overview is “The Decentralized Concept of Wastewater Management” (in the “Decentralized Concept” menu at, and a basic review of those organizing principles are set forth in this document, reviewing wastewater management options in the nearby community of Wimberley. But a review of exactly how to design a decentralized concept system for any given project in and around Dripping Springs is properly the subject of a PERP for each project, not something that can be credibly described here, absent any context. The means and methods are, however, all well understood technologies that can readily be implemented to cost efficiently maximize reuse of this water resource.

Highlighting that the most salient feature of a decentralized concept strategy in the context of this region is the “short-stopping” of the long water loops characteristic of the conventional centralized strategy, so that reuse of the water resource would be maximized at the least cost. It is this 21st century imperative that should motivate Dripping Springs and the developers working in that area to explore the decentralized concept. A necessary part of that exploration is to press TCEQ to consider how it interprets and applies its present rules, and perhaps to consider the need for “better” rules that recognize our current water realities. None of this can be served up for the city or the developers as a fait accompli in this medium; it is a job they have to undertake. One which we all need them to undertake, for the benefit of this region’s citizens, current and future.
But from all indications to date, it does not appear they will even try – they just can’t seem to expand their mental model of wastewater management to encompass it. The result of which is that most of this wastewater will live down to its name for a long time to come, driving us ever further away from sustainable water. So the question is posed: Can Dripping Springs, and the developers there, bust out of the 19th century – or will they choose to remain stuck there?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Neighbor to Neighbor - News and Events

Neighbor to Neighbor News Pass it on...                    
October 14, 2014

Hill Country News

Summit addresses Hill Country issues
"Everything from urban development to dance hall preservation was on the agenda at the Hill Country Alliance 2014 Leadership Summit, held Thursday at the Nimitz Hotel Ballroom." Read the full article from the Fredericksburg Standard.

Keeping Open Spaces Open
“We are reaching a point in Texas where simply standing on common ground is not enough. The lives of urban and rural Texans are irreversibly intertwined, so we must all join forces to create and define initiatives and policies that conserve the common good, while protecting the heritage of private landowners.” Read more of David K. Langford's guest blog for the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

Harvest that Rain!
Most food growers rely on tap water to keep their plants alive during dry weather, but gardeners are discovering that chemicals in tap water harm the soil organisms that plants depend upon to absorb nutrients. As a result, more and more gardeners are storing rainwater. Read more from Sustainable Food Center.

Bracken Bat Cave needs your help
For the past year, San Antonio City officials, Bat Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and many other organizations and community leaders have been searching for a solution to avert a 3,500-home development over the Edwards Aquifer and adjacent to Bracken Cave Preserve. Next week, San Antonio's city council will meet to vote on whether to invest $5 million from their Edwards Aquifer Protection Program toward the purchase of the property and a conservation easement to protect aquifer recharge. Learn more from BCI.

Citizens Rule the Night at City Council
City Council chambers filled Wednesday evening with more than 100 people who signed up to speak for or against the proposed SAWS-Vista Ridge Consortium water agreement. Individuals were given two minutes to express their views, while group representatives were allotted five minutes. Read more from the Rivard Report.

When private property rights clash with the public good
“I have never understood why in Texas zoning laws are good for city mice but not for country mice, especially as we lose more and more of the open land that is necessary to our survival as a species every year, but that is the way it is and there seems to be no way to change it until Texans get tired of seeing our state gobbled up by strip malls and truck stops and march on the state capitol armed with shotguns and pruning hooks.” Read this personal story about the Hill Country, by Lonn Taylor, featured in The Big Bend Sentinel. Learn more about County Authority in Texas here.

Public Meeting: Vision for FM 150, October 16 in Driftwood
The public is invited to learn more about the process to develop a Roadway Character Plan for FM 150 from near Arroyo Ranch Road northwest through the Driftwood to RR 12 in Dripping Springs at an October 16 meeting. Hays County Commissioners Will Conley and Ray Whisenant are hosting the meeting to share information about the roadway and gather ideas from the public about what this important cross-county road needs to look like as changes are phased in to improve mobility and safety. Details

Art Rain Barrel Auction raises funds for Hill Country Schools
Artists from around the Hill Country have donated their time and talent decorating beautiful rain barrels to help raise awareness about rainwater harvesting and the 2014 Rainwater Revival. These unique custom painted rain barrels are being auctioned off through the end of the Rainwater Revival, October 25 at 4:00pm. All proceeds from this auction will fund grants for local schools to be used for rainwater harvesting projects and water conservation education. Even if you don't need a rain barrel you can still support the Rainwater Revival School Grant Fund with a donation by visting the auction page below.

Upcoming Events
October 15 in Junction - SLWA Guadalupe Bass Workshop - Details
October 16 in Driftwood - Public Meeting: Vision for FM 150 - Details
October 16 in San Antonio - Teaming with Wildlife: The State of Nature in Texas, presented by Compassionate San Antonio - Details
October 16 in Boerne - Hill Country Water: Myths and Truths - Milan J Michalec of the HCA and CCGCD will lead a hands on presentation on the myths of groundwater supplies, policy, and planning - Details
October 16 in Boerne - Hill Country Agri-land workshop - Details
October 17-19 in Alpine - Society for Ecological Restoration Annual Conference: Ecological Restoration in the Southwest - Details

October 23 in Boerne - 2014 Boerne Water Forum: Community Growth and Water Quality ARE Compatible - Details
October 24 in Utopia - Stars over Utopia - Learn how to protect our night skies and do some stargazing - Details

October 25 in Dripping Springs - HCA's 5th Annual Rainwater Revival! - Details
October 25 in Wimberley - A Whole Farm Approach to Improving the Water Cycle, presented by HMI - Details

October 29 in Austin - Great Places and Healthy People, presented by Congress for the New Urbanism - Details

October 30 in Austin - Balcones Canyonland Preserve Infrastructure Workshop - Details