Clear, Clean Colorado River Association – Some History

Austin Dumping Grounds (from Bastrop Advertiser, May 16, 1985)

The Clear, Clean Colorado River Association (the CCC as it was called) was founded February 12, 1985 by Les Appelt, Steve Rivers, and Dan Beck, along with nine other founding directors.  Because of this organization, the Colorado River between Austin and La Grange has the highest water quality standards in the state of Texas.  We can heartily thank these dedicated people who put their hearts, minds, energy — and yes, money — into a heroic effort to change the course of our river’s history. (Other documents:  ByLaws, Chapter Guidelines).

As the cartoon notes, the Colorado River and Bastrop County were the dumping grounds for Austin sewage  in the early 1980’s.  Because the CCC took action, the Texas Water Commission (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) set water quality standards for these segments of the river and brought suit agains the city of Austin.  The result was a settlement whereby Austin spent hundreds of millions of dollars to install state-of-the-art treatment facilities.  Now, the water released from those facilities into the lower Colorado River and the tributaries, are expected to meet a water quality standard that are nearly drinkable (or was when I originally wrote the February 28, 2008, article for the Bastrop Advertiser).

 

 

 

The health of the river — an ecological system which functions as a massive water filter — has improved as a result of the wastewater treatment standards that required best-available technology in order to meet the exceptional aquatic life use standards.  However, the water quality in the river is once again threatened. Read for yourself how the water quality in the river is changing! The 2020 Texas Integrated Water Quality Report documents the most recent water quality assessment results for the three segments of the Colorado River.

It is time for the technology to be upgraded to meet best available technology (BAT) or best available technology economically achievable (BATEA) standards.  Updated standards should require the water quality of effluent to contribute to the objective of maintaining a sound ecological environment that is fishable and swimmable.

  • The water quality standards on these segments of the river today (Classified segments 1428 and 1434 on the map below) are designated as “Exceptional” for aquatic life use, “Primary Contact 1” for recreational use, and are designated to provide water for use as a public water system for drinking water supply. (TCEQ, Chapter 307- Texas Surface Water Quality Standards Rule Project No. 2016-002-307-OW, Colorado River Basin Designated Uses and Numeric Criteria).
  • Exceptional aquatic life use includes outstanding natural habitat characteristics, exceptional or unusual assemblage of species, abundant sensitive species, exceptionally high diversity , exceptional high species richness, and a balanced trophic structure.
  • The river is designated for recreational activities that are presumed to involve a significant risk of ingestion of water (e.g., wading by children, swimming, water skiing, diving, tubing, surfing, hand fishing (as defined by Texas Parks and Wildlife Code) and whitewater activities that include kayaking, canoeing, and rafting).

Map of the lower Colorado River basin showing classified stream segments, including segments 1428 and 1434. Click for larger view.

The CCC was dissolved December 17, 1993, after the TCEQ sued the City of Austin to clean up the sewage discharges from the Austin wastewater treatment plan that was polluting the river all the way to La Grange, Texas. Based on the final settlement agreement, the following organizations that CCC had established were transferred to other entites and are functioning today:


As the population and urban development march down the river in our direction, we need to be mindful of the costs this “progress” brings to our communities.  We have the responsibility to carry on the legacy and leadership of those who established the CCC.  We are the river stewards of today.  It is our responsibility to take up and continue their vision if we expect to continue to enjoy the clear, clean Colorado River we enjoy today!