Local environmentalists do not want to see sewage lines or a wastewater plant built for a new development constructed over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone — a matter that was driven home during the San Antonio Water System’s monthly board of trustees meeting Tuesday.

A handful of environmentalists, including Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance Executive Director Annalisa Peace, made their opposition known to three of the four sewage development options for a 1,160-acre parcel called the Guajolote Tract during the public comment portion of the meeting. The tract is being developed by Lennar Homes of Texas, SAWS said.

Seven trustees were given a briefing on four sewage options Tuesday, two of which would be installed and managed by SAWS, if selected. The board is set to vote on how SAWS will proceed with the tract next month.

With the Guajolote Tract located northwest within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of San Antonio, all the sewage options for the land would “increase the amount of wastewater discharged into the environment and significantly degrade the watershed and the quality of water recharging the Edwards Aquifer,” Peace said, quoting the results of a recent study by Southwest Research Institute scientist Ronald Green. However, GEAA hopes SAWS staff will help developers settle “on the least bad path forward.”

Option one would see SAWS construct and manage three new lift stations, 3 miles of force main and 2 miles of gravity mains. Option two would have SAWS construct and manage 9 miles of off-site gravity sewer mains.

Tracey Lehmann, director of engineering, told trustees that both options would have SAWS managing sewage infrastructure outside its wastewater certificate of convenience and necessity; outside its formal wastewater service area.

Following in-depth discussions between local environmental stakeholders (which included representatives from GEAA, Alamo Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy of Texas) and SAWS staff last month, the environmentalists favored the two options not managed by SAWS, Lehmann said. Option three, which would see the construction of an on-site wastewater treatment plant managed by the developers was the “preferred option by environmental stakeholders and developer,” he said.

A presented map shows the 1,160 acre property at Guajolete Ranch and the lack of nearby wastewater equivalent dwelling units (EDU)
A presented map shows the 1,160 acre property at Guajolote Ranch (yellow) and the lack of nearby wastewater equivalent dwelling units (EDUs) Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Water System

Since the Guajolote Tract is still within SAWS’ formal water service area, the utility can add water-use stipulations about how the developer manages a wastewater treatment plant or septic systems, Lehmann said.

“I think I heard you say, ‘If we could include it in a [utility service agreement], we would have these additional restrictions related to the packaged plant,’ ” SAWS Chair Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison said to Lehmann. “So, can we impose that in the utility service agreement for water? Even though that’s for wastewater?”

“Yes,” Lehmann answered. “We don’t issue a utility service agreement unless we know how the water and sewer will be served.”

However, Peace told the San Antonio Report on Friday that GEAA and other environmental stakeholders prefer option four, which suggests the installation of septic systems for each half-acre lot. This would restrict the number of houses developers could build in the area and help minimize the amount of impervious cover — any type of man-made surface that doesn’t absorb rainfall — constructed.

Developers asked for 3,000 equivalent dwelling units (EDU) of water, where one EDU is equal to the amount of water used by one single-family, residential dwelling unit; about 200 gallons. Option four would eliminate about 1,000 of the homes developers could build on the tract, Peace said.

“[Option four] is not an option that can be approved by [the SAWS board] but, given that a significant amount of recharge to SAWS Edwards supplies occurs in this area, it would not be out of line for SAWS to advocate this plan of action,” Peace said during the meeting. “GEAA would formally oppose [option three], as we have so many others of this type that have the potential to negatively impact the Edwards Aquifer. Our recommendation would be for SAWS to oppose [it], as well.”

At this time, this fourth option is not officially being considered by the developer, Lehmann said, which is why SAWS staff said option three is the stakeholders’ preferred option.

SAWS will likely see the Guajolote Tract on their agenda next month, Lehmann said, at which time trustees will have to decide if they want to see SAWS proceed with options one or two, or if they want to deny both of those options and instead encourage the developer to move forward with option three or four. Feedback from the trustees suggested they will likely deny options one and two.

“Thank you, Tracey,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “You’ve given us a lot to think about over the next month.”

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.