AUSTIN ~ In what is being described by homeowners along Farmers Branch Creek as a major victory, the three-member Texas Commission on Environmental Quality unanimously remanded a water rights dispute between Farmers Branch and Addison back to their staff for a complete review.
Farmers Branch City officials, along with about 25 interested homeowners, were in attendance at TCEQ offices in Austin this morning as the commission held a hearing on the matter, stemming from a water rights permit originally granted to Addison in 2011 that allowed for construction of expansive water features in Addison as part of the Vitruvian development, along Farmers Branch Creek, east of Marsh Lane.
After testimony in this morning’s hearing, including statements from experts, Farmers Branch residents and TCEQ’s own Public Interest Counsel, TCEQ Commissioners asked their staff for a top to bottom review of the case, with questions as to why Addison is still providing water from an unpermitted aquifer.
“I’m troubled by what I see as (Addison’s) willful non-compliance with our statutes and regulations and the terms of the permit,” said TCEQ Commissioner Jon Niermann during discussion in the open meeting.
“The case being sent back to staff for review almost never happens at the TCEQ board level,” said Farmers Branch Deputy City Manager John Land. “Although the results of a final review will be forthcoming, the fact that commissioners were motivated to put this thing under a microscope is a tremendous vindication for the Farmers Branch stance in this matter.”
Farmers Branch officials and homeowners have asserted that Addison has ignored state environmental regulations, restricting flow in Farmers Branch Creek and replacing evaporated water with water of inferior quality, damaging the ecosystem and property values along the creek, downstream in Farmers Branch.
“This is a great win for Farmers Branch,” said Farmers Branch Creek property owner Todd Womble. “We feel very confident that this means TCEQ is serious about this issue and will do the right thing when this review is complete.”
Under the permit Addison was required to replace the flow of water in the creek by tapping into the Trinity Aquifer, but Farmers Branch property owners downstream soon began complaining about a substantial flow decrease. At times during the past three years the creek has been nearly dry, although it is classified as a perennial stream by the United States Geological Survey, meaning there should always be water flowing.
An investigation by Farmers Branch discovered that, contrary to the permit, Addison is pumping water from the inferior quality Woodbine Aquifer. Additionally, the data raises questions about the number of hours and volume of water Addison is pumping to offset the evaporative losses.
“This (Woodbine Aquifer) groundwater has actually introduced pollutants into state surface water,” said TCEQ Chairman Bryan W. Shaw. “The evidence supports that conclusion.”
Farmers Branch City Councilmember, and creek property owner, Mike Bomgarder said he encourages Addison to do the right thing.
“Addison officials continue pursuing a permit modification that allows lower quality water to enter Farmers Branch Creek,” Mr. Bomgardner explained. “This misguided approach will likely end up costing Addison taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, in hopes of achieving an environmentally unfriendly result.”
A private bus, chartered by concerned Farmers Branch residents who attended the hearing, is due back in Farmers Branch later this afternoon.