News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Balancing Population Growth And Healthy Rivers In Texas

Nathan Cone
Texas Public Radio

Across the Hill Country, there’s a proliferation of permit applications to discharge treated wastewater directly into Hill Country creeks and rivers. Population increases are putting pressure on utilities to expand services, and many do not have the technical or financial resources to explore non-discharge options. At this Texas Water Symposium panel held on November 8, 2018 at Schreiner University, panelists discuss the implications of wastewater discharge for creek and river health and for the quality of rural well water, and explore the alternatives for the region.

Moderator: Anne Rogers Harrison, Water Quality Program Leader, Texas Parks & Wildlife


  • Nathan Pence, Executive Manager of Environmental Science and Community Affairs, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority
  • Sky Lewey, Resource Protection and Education Director, Nueces River Authority
  • Chris Herrington, Acting Environmental Officer, City of Austin Watershed Protection Department
  • Mary Stone, Vice Chair of TREAD Coalition

From the panel, on the TCEQ permitting process:

L to R: Nathan Pence, Mary Stone, Anne Rogers Harrison, Chris Herrington, Sky Lewey.
Credit Nathan Cone / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
L to R: Nathan Pence, Mary Stone, Anne Rogers Harrison, Chris Herrington, Sky Lewey.

Nathan Pence: “I personally believe is science should guide these decisions that are being made by policy makers. And I think most everyone agrees on that. So if you have objective science from a third party that's been peer reviewed and is widely accepted then that is the science that should drive what a permit looks like. The one thing that I do really like about TCEQ's permitting process is it does have the ability to feed that science into that permitting process and they do that through ... public hearings, notices where you can respond to it, things like that. So if there is science on a Hill Country stream, or any water body for that matter, then you can feed that science into the process and the permit that is issued for discharge should take that science into account and should not look the same so it's not a one size fits all, not every permit in the state looks the same. Depending on where it's issued at, and what the water body is and what the concerns are, that permit will have different criteria or different parameters in it that have to be followed. One of the problems is sometimes the science comes in at the tail end instead of the front end. And that's something that needs to be worked on. You've got to be dedicated to generating the science to inform that process, either as the entity or as a landowner or someone who's involved in the issue.”

Mary Stone:If you go to the Capitol to try to influence any type of change they will look at you and say "Well, where's the science?" And what I would say is, "Well where's the money to fund the science?" Because yes, we want to have good science to create policy all over this state. And I believe it is a responsibility of the legislature to fund that so we can protect these resources. And I call it the the culture of poverty in groundwater districts that are not funded well at all. We are blessed with the Barton Springs District because we do get in our enabling legislation, we do get money from the City of Austin and we have scientists full-time on board that do amazing work and our policy is absolutely based on science but that is not the case throughout the state and it is really something that needs to be addressed because [water] is the most valuable resource in this state. 

Copyright 2020 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Water, essential for life, is our most precious and valuable natural resource, but water supply is limited and under increasing pressure from a growing population. How will we protect this resource and plan for a sustainable future? There is a great need for a water-literate public; decisions being made today have far reaching and long lasting effects for our children and future generations.