Lennar Homes is looking to build nearly 3,000 homes in the city. But his plan would involve pumping 1 million gallons into the creek on a daily basis.
HELOTES, Texas – Up to 1 million gallons of treated sewage could soon flow through Helotes Creek each day if a permit is approved by the state.
It’s not without controversy, however, and comes as Lennar Homes looks to build 2,900 homes on 1,160 acres of property near Scenic Loop Road and Babcock Road. The Guajolote Ranch development project would help meet housing needs in Bexar County after the US Census Bureau recently ranked San Antonio as the fastest growing city in the country.
But new homes come at a cost that many are unwilling to pay.
“We were here every day,” Jennifer Webster said, pointing to Helotes Creek on Tuesday afternoon. “We have a small pool right here. We used to come here to fish for lobsters and fish.
Webster’s parents bought property on the banks of Helotes Creek in the 1960s. She has spent her entire life on the property near Old Bandera Road and Floore Drive.
Now it’s his own children who play in the creek when it flows. Unfortunately, it doesn’t flow much these days.
“There is no water right now,” Webster said. “So if 100% of the water that passed through here came from a sewage treatment plant, I just have a lot of concerns about how that would affect my well. I don’t have city water, I have a well; it is my only source of water. I would be concerned about the animals around here and I would be concerned about the value of my property.
Lennar Homes recently applied for a Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). On Tuesday, the commission held its first public meeting to gather input.
A few hundred people from Helotes and nearby communities attended and dozens lined up to express their frustration.
“It’s not about ‘Not in my backyard,'” said Michael Schick, who lives near Guajolote Ranch. “It’s about ‘Not in my faucet.’ And it’s not about “You’ve ruined my eyesight.” It’s about “you could potentially ruin my health and the health of too many people.” This is a serious problem.”
Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, said Lennar Homes’ plan to build a treatment plant and release hundreds of thousands of gallons into the Helotes Creek water system would impact all of Bexar County, and not in a positive way.
“What you’re doing is replenishing the aquifer with wastewater, which we think really degrades water quality,” Peace said.
A TCEQ spokesman said KENS 5 developers must meet stringent standards.
At the meeting, a Lennar Homes consultant said the plan is more environmentally friendly than installing a septic system.
“What we’re doing is orders of magnitude more protective of human health and life in the water table than putting in a septic system,” said Troy Hotchkiss, engineering lead for Integrated Water Services. “I would say we are installing a treatment system that will improve the environment and reclaim the water. Water is a commodity. So, the idea here is rather than importing more water, we can reclaim the water and reuse it for irrigation or whatever.”
Lennar Homes must first obtain a permit to discharge the waste water before applying for a permit to recover it. However, a TCEQ spokesman said the agency cannot force a developer to apply for the second permit.
“The immediate impact would be on the creek,” said Ronald Green, a groundwater hydrologist. “It will be degraded with low oxygen content, it will have algae, it will not smell good. The other issue is the larger impact, in my view, and that if it sets a precedence in northwest Bexar County.
“Then, other developments will come and you will have more and more effluent coming in. This will enter the Edwards Aquifer and degrade it.”
“There aren’t enough guarantees that this won’t cause a lot of damage,” said Marylee Williams, a Helotes resident. “Helotes Creek meets Leon Creek, which runs through Leon Valley and San Antonio. There are many animals that drink its water. Florida University has done research showing that the fish they are harvesting contains two to five drugs.
The permit application process is lengthy. TCEQ officials said it could take several months, if not years, for a decision to be made.
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