The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should follow an administrative judge’s recommendation and require water testing by a company seeking to dump treated wastewater into a tributary flowing in Dickinson Bayou.
Clean Harbors San Leon Inc. in May 2015 applied for an amendment to its existing permit from the state environmental agency to discharge up to 105,000 gallons of treated wastewater and treated stormwater each day into a tributary on its property that flows to Dickinson Bayou.
The proposal quickly drew opposition from neighboring property owners and residents, particularly in San Leon, who worried the company’s plan will further pollute the bayou.
A coalition of residents, including local oyster company owners and representatives of the San Leon Municipal Utility District, protested and sought a hearing from the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which considers disputes over permits.
In a proposal for decision published April 24, Administrative Judge Joanne Summerhays ruled the draft permit had not required Clean Harbors to conduct whole effluent toxicity testing, or WET as it’s called, on its discharged wastewater, which is a violation of state code.
The judge recommended the amendment be accepted, but with the requirement.
The environmental commission will ultimately make the call on the amendment to the permit, but it weighs the administrative judge’s proposal.
The state had almost allowed a company to dump more wastewater into unnamed waterways with little oversight or regulation over how it affects the environment, said Lisa Halili, an owner of Prestige Oysters in San Leon.
People who protested the plan celebrated Summerhays’ decision as a step in the right direction because it requires hazardous waste companies doing business in Galveston County to have some accountability in protecting the waterways.
“The recommendation to include WET testing is a very big win because it will require Clean Harbors to constantly monitor potential toxicity in receiving waters,” said Joe Manchaca, president of the San Leon Municipal Utility District.
The testing measures the toxic effects of pollutants on species specific to the area where it’s dumped, Summerhays said.
“WET testing is an integral tool in the assessment of water quality for the protection of aquatic life because it can measure both chronic and acute impacts on the survival, reproduction, or growth of test organisms,” Summerhays wrote.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will review the proposal for decision and submit responses if there are any concerns or disagreements, agency spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said.
Once the process is complete, it will be scheduled for a monthly agenda meeting, Morrow said. The commissioners will then decide on the application, Morrow said.
Summerhays’ recommendation gets at a core question about whether the company permit application should be granted: would discharging 105,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater and stormwater into a tributary of Dickinson Bayou cause measurable harm to the environment?
Those supporting the application say it wouldn’t; those opposed are worried that it might.
The judge has provided a way to determine who’s right and the state should follow her lead.
• Michael A. Smith