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Lennar Homes, a home construction company based in Florida, is requesting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve an on-site wastewater treatment plant for Guajolote Ranch, a proposed development in Northwest Bexar County. If approved, the permit would allow the facility, located 1.75 miles Southwest of the intersection of Scenic Loop and Babcock Road, to discharge 1 million gallons of treated wastewater into Helotes Creek daily.
Grey Forest and Helotes residents opposing the facility are preparing for a TCEQ public meeting concerning the application. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 9, 2023, at 7 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 6809 N. Loop 1604 W.
If the on-site wastewater treatment plant is approved, Lennar will proceed with the new development of 2,900 homes in a 1,160-acre tract located just outside of Grey Forest. According to online records, Lennar Homes has not purchased the tract to date.
Nathan Glavy, technical director for the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, says this proposal is more than a ‘Not in My Backyard’ issue because the daily treated septic discharge impacts everyone due to the location’s proximity to the Edwards Aquifer and its potential impact on the region’s drinking water.
“Upstream complications have downstream implications,” explained Glavy. “The Guajolote track is in the aquifer contributing zone and the effluent will run downstream into the recharge zone—where water enters the aquifer at a quicker pace—making the location more prone to pollution.”
If approved, the on-site wastewater treatment would be the first of its kind in the area. Opponents believe it sets a troubling model for future development. Increased impervious cover caused by more development could create elevated levels of stormwater run-off—making the area more prone to flooding.
“Because the on-site septic facility would be the first of its kind in the area, other developers are closely watching this process and will point to an approval as precedent to do the same,” added Glavy.
Concerned residents fought the Lennar project throughout the entire San Antonio Water System (SAWS) approval process. In January 2022 they urged the SAWS Board of Trustees not to approve the Guajolote development due to its negative impact on water in the region.
In public comment to the SAWS board, Susan Beavin, a long-time resident of Grey Forest, said she had “over 60 years of personally observing the changes that have occurred to the water [in the Helotes Creek area]. Once a flowing creek with large fish, it hasn’t had a steady flow of water since 2005, since the onslaught of development and numerous nearby wells.”
The region has experienced significant change since it was originally developed in 1929 as the new Scenic Loop Playground, a subdivision featuring homes along Helotes Canyons off Scenic Loop. It quickly became a popular location for summer homes because swimming in the local creeks was a welcome escape from the extreme Texas heat.
According to local historian Cynthia Leal Massey in her book Helotes: Where the Texas Hill Country Begins, the new subdivision was a popular oasis with “shared recreational areas, such as a fresh spring swimming hole.” Although initially a summer retreat, Massey writes “by 1945 some people were using their cottages as permanent homes.”
Today, with a mostly dry creek bed, the summer days of swimming are for the most part a thing of the past for the Grey Forest community. If the Lennar application is approved, it will permanently mark the end of this pastime as locals will be unable to swim in the creeks even when they fill due to the presence of treated wastewater.
Grey Forest resident Annie McEntire and her family live on Lee Creek which connects to Helotes Creek. She fears if approved the effluent discharge will have a negative impact on wildlife in the area. Even after treatment in the wastewater facility, the water will still contain chemicals dangerous to the environment, said McEntire.
During a citizen meeting held last week in preparation for the upcoming public hearing local residents like McEntire discussed their concerns with pollution, flooding, stormwater run-off, traffic, and air and water quality.
Long-time Helotes resident Lisa Pack explains the fight isn’t about ruining hill country views or swimming holes. For Pack it is about responsible and managed growth in the region.
“Water is becoming more and more of an issue as more people move into the area,” said Pack. “We understand and accept that growth will occur, but we need to protect the region’s water with responsible development.”
If approved, Guajolote Ranch, featuring an estimated 4 to 5 homes an acre, will set a precedence for more high-density, high-use developments in the area, she added.
For some residents, the neighboring Canyons at Scenic Loop development is an example of responsible development because it consists of larger half an acre to 1 acre plus lots, making an on-site wastewater treatment facility unnecessary because homeowners are required to install their own septic systems.
Even with 1,000 of laws on the books in Texas concerning water rights, opponents have an uphill battle.
Lennar’s TCEQ application reports that wastewater will be discharged via a pipe into Helotes Creek, and it has determined the existing water quality uses will not be impacted. Lennar has created a limited liability company or LLC called Municipal Operations to handle the permit process. Keith Arrant, an engineer with Municipal Operations who is listed in the TCEQ application, declined to comment for this article.
Lennar’s application also reports minimal aquatic life in Helotes Creek because the creek bed remains dry for “most normal weather conditions during the year.”
According to the application, if approved, construction on the initial phase will begin in late 2023.
Concerned residents can submit their online comments and questions in advance of the meeting. See https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/ and reference Permit # WQ0016171001. To view the TCEQ permit, visit the Igo Library at 13330 Kyle Seale Parkway. For additional information on citizen efforts with the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, see www.scenicloop.org
Link to map of proposed location of water treatment facility: Sign in to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality