The Boring Company Wants to Dispose of Wastewater into the Colorado River

March 28, 2023

The Boring Company (TBC), one of many Elon Musk companies, had applied to dispose of treated industrial and domestic wastewater into the Colorado River above Bastrop, TX.   As you can see in Figure 1 below, TBC’s property (the rectangular box) is located on the banks of the Colorado River just upriver from the FM 969 bridge at Utley.

The Boring Company (TBC) has a permit from Bastrop County to bore short tunnels on the property to demonstrate its ability to do large-scale projects in San Antonio, Austin, and elsewhere. The company has also indicated an interest in boring a two-mile private “Colorado River Connector Tunnel,”between The Boring Company in Bastrop County, and the Tesla gigaplant in Travis County. Such a project likely would require boring along the alluvium where the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer is located.

Gapped Bass LLC , another Elon Musk Company, has filed a wastewater disposal application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), requesting a permit to discharge 142,500 gallons of domestic and industrial wastewater per day into the Colorado River, and by land application on its property. The TCEQ — the agency in Texas that administers the Texas Pollution Discharge Permitting program for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — has been reviewing the application and held a Public Meeting on the matter in Bastrop on March 21, 2023.  

Environmental Stewardship Filed Comments to TCEQ

Environmental Stewardship has filed extensive comments on the permit application. The initial issues of concern are provided in the listing of issues;  ATTACHMENT 1;  Concerns and Objections. Attachment 2; Water Quality Assessment Reports: provides supporting evidence & timeline. Exhibits in Support of Evidence are actual pages from the Texas Integrated Reports, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2020, 2022 that provide the basis for our concerns regarding the health of the Colorado River in Segment 1428 and the way in which TCEQ has managed (or not managed) these concerns.  


Together, these documents reveal actions taken by TCEQ that support the claim by the Sunset Commission that TCEQ is a “Reluctant Regulator” that has not been transparent about its actions and decisions.  Without having collected the data, it is not likely that the TCEQ can make the affirmative claim that the water quality standards related to Aquatic-Life use are being met.   As such, the authorization of permits to discharge wastewater into this segment of the river continues the degradation that has taken place over the past two decades while TCEQ has not taken action to get the biological data needed to confirm compliance. 


Environmental Stewardship has indicated it would be pleased to discuss these matters with Gapped Bass and/or TCEQ to resolve all or any.  If the concerns and objections are not resolved,  Environmental Stewardship reserves its right to a contested case hearing contingent on resolving all issues raised herein resulting from the Application Updated and Draft Permit.


Integrated Water Quality Reports & Anti-Degradation Reviews

It has become clear to persons that use and recreate on this reach of the river that the water quality and ecology of the Colorado River below Austin have been degrading over the past decade and are likely impaired.  Two segments (1428 and 1434), that have the highest aquatic and recreational use standards in the state, are falling short of meeting the standards set in the 1980’s and early ’90’s and updated in 2018. ( TAC, Title 30, Chapter 307.10(1), Appendix A – pages 29-31.)

Environmental Stewardship strongly objects to the statement that Segment No. 1428 of the  Colorado River is not currently listed on the State’s inventory of impaired and threatened waters (the 2022 CWA § 303(d) list) since this implies that the river is meeting exceptional standards. To the contrary, there are numerous citations of ecological/biological, physical, and chemical impairment concerns that have been repetitively listed for this section of the river since 2006 and earlier.  The evidence shows that for more than 17 years concerns have been raised about impairment of fish and macrobenthic communities, as well as physical and chemical that do not support water quality standards, yet these concerns have not been adequately investigated.

Environmental Stewardship asserts that segment 1428 is likely impaired according to the 2020 and 2010, 2008, and 2006 Texas Integrated Reports, and should either be on the 303(d) list of impaired streams, or assumed to be impaired, and should be subject of management strategies to remedy the impairments and a proper anti-degradation review.In reviewing the 2020 Texas Integrated [Assessment] Report[1] for the Colorado River (Basin 14) it is clear that concern for impaired fish and macrobenthic communities in these segments of the river may not only be currently impaired, but many of these impairments are carried forward from the 2006 report “due to inadequate data for this method of assessment”.Even more concerning is that many of the impairments that were listed in the 2020 report, were de-listed on July 7, 2022, after new guidelines were adopted.[2]  No justification for these de-listings is found in the record.  

[1] The Texas Integrated Report describes the status of the state’s waters, as required by Sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act. It summarizes the condition of the state’s surface waters, including concerns for public health, fitness for use by aquatic species and other wildlife, and specific pollutants and their possible sources.

[2] 2022 Guidance for Assessing and Reporting Surface Water Quality in Texas, July 7, 2022.

Colorado Alluvial Aquifer Interaction with Colorado River and Wilcox Aquifer Group.

Environmental Stewardship is concerned that adequate consideration has not been given to the impacts of the interactions that will likely occur between the proposed sprayfield, the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer (CAA), the Colorado River, and the Wilcox Aquifer Group.

The close proximity of the sprayfield already located directly above the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer poses high risk of direct contamination of the Colorado River, Calvert Bluff, Simsboro and Hooper aquifers (Wilcox Group) as a result of water that is exchanged between these formations. 

The Colorado River, as it runs through Bastrop County, is primarily a gaining stream as it is recharged by groundwater flowing from the Wilcox Aquifer group by way of the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer (CAA).  Likewise, when the river flows are high, or at flood stage, water flows into the aquifers from the river by way of the alluvial aquifer (CAA).  The application of treated wastewater over the alluvial aquifer, contributes an additional flow of potentially contaminated water into both the Colorado River and the Wilcox Aquifer Group by way of the alluvial aquifer, thus increasing the chances of contaminating these waters with both industrial and domestic wastewater components. 

Furthermore, wastewater discharged directly into the Colorado River also recharges the Wilcox Group of Aquifers in this segment of the river.  Comments submitted on behalf of the Management Committee of the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors by Graves, Dougherty, Hearon, and Moody[2] further describes the high geologic sensitivity of this segment of the Colorado River and the important hydrologic connections it has to the major and minor aquifers within the district’s jurisdiction.   Both the quality and quantity of water involved in this hydrologic connection is of great importance to the future of Central Texas.

To quote from the comments submitted on behalf of the Management Committee,

“In a report prepared by well-published hydrogeologist and engineer Dr. Bill Hutchison, attached as Exhibit B, there is proof that surface water from the Colorado River in Bastrop County communicates with the aquifers in the District.6 The report reveals flow losses in the Colorado River and those losses contribute to increases in the groundwater water table. These losses indicate that the Colorado River provides recharge to the aquifers in the same vicinity of the Corix[1]discharge.”“Groundwater and surface water interaction or communication must be addressed by TCEQ. In addition, these aquifers and the surface water feeding them serve as a primary water supply for many in the region. TCEQ’s own documents acknowledge the significance of the Colorado River Segment No. 1428’s designated use of “Domestic Water Supply Use.”8

The sensitive environment in this unique hydrogeologic setting, the regional dependence on groundwater for drinking water supply, and the known interaction between surface water and groundwater are extraordinary circumstances that will be affected by the Corix’s application. TCEQ may not issue a permit unless existing uses are maintained, and must prevent the degradation of waters, both surface water and groundwater.9

Environmental Stewardship asserts that the above comments apply equally to the discharges requested by the Gapped Bass permit application on behalf of The Boring Company in this same geologic sensitive segment of the Colorado River and should likewise be considered as a part of this permit review process.  See Attachment 3 below


Location of CORIX/McKinney Roughs Park Wastewater Outfall and Gapped Bass/The Boring Company Wastewater Outfall, and the Gapped Bass Sprayfield on segment 1428 of the Colorado River above Bastrop, TX.

[1] Corix is the owner/applicant for the wastewater treatment permit at the McKinney Roughs Park location.

[2] Natasha J. Martin filed electronically on Permit No. WQDO13977001, March 13, 2022.

A Unique Opportunity to Establish Standards for the Conjunctive Use and Management of the waters of the Colorado River and the Wilcox Aquifer Group by Municipal, Industrial, Agricultural, Domestic, Aquatic-Life, and Recreational, users of these water resources in Central Texas.

Environmental Stewardship’s overall goal is protection of the exceptionally high-quality waters and aquatic-life use in this segment of the Colorado River and the groundwater aquifers that exchange water with the river.  Our members goals further extend to the protection of their interests in the use of these waters for domestic, irrigation, and recreational use. 

The Applicant’s goal is to use these waters to further their industrial and municipal interests.  A primary interest of The Boring Company is to conduct research to improve upon its ability to bore tunnels in the vicinity of rivers, aquifers, and other natural land resources in order to further their commercial interests.  In doing the research and development of such boring technology, it is a reasonable extension to understand the impacts of the technology on the natural water and land resources impacted by the tunneling processes, whether directly or indirectly through the alteration, use, treatment, and disposal of such natural resources. 

As such, it seems that these interacting goals and interests, coming together in this uniquely sensitive segment of the Colorado River, provide an opportunity for cooperation among the stakeholders to investigate, develop, and implement a program that contributes to, and enhances these goals for all parties, the communities, and the environment in which their desired ecological paradise can survive and thrive.   


Environmental Stewardship respectfully requests that the TCEQ, the Applicant, and other interested parties take notice of the filing of these comments.  Environmental Stewardship respectfully requests that, upon final decision in this action, TCEQ:

(1) recognize the need to take special precautions in this sensitive segment of the Colorado River by requiring that the Applicant, in cooperation with the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (District), to plan, install, maintain, and continuously operate a well monitoring network in this segment of the river to provide data and information to measure the quality and quantity of water exchanged between the river, alluvial aquifer, and other aquifers in compliance with such laws and rules of that govern such management practices in the District;
(2) recognize the need to take special precautions relative to any research or commercial boring practices in this segment of the river that may alter the flow or quality of the water of the river and connected aquifers in a way that degrades such waters and the aquatic-life, recreational, and drinking water sources of the river and aquifers by requiring the Applicant to plan, install, maintain and continuously operate monitoring equipment, and to report such information regarding the impact of these actions on these resources to appropriate authorities
(3) conduct, prior to making a final decision regarding this permit, such biological assessment studies as are necessary to adequately assess and take remedial actions where needed to reverse the degradation of these segments of the river;
(4) reexamine, prior to making a final decision regarding this permit, the anti-degradation reviews on the receiving waters (Tier 1 and 2) and the studies that underlay these reviews, to determine the current status of impaired fish and macrobenthic communities resulting from nitrogen, total phosphates, and other impairments in the segments 1428, including the level of PFAS contamination, and report these results to the public in a manner that makes such justifications transparent; and
(5) recognize that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) must be included in the chemical contaminants that the Applicant is required to measure and monitor in this segment of the river. Attachment 4.

Moreover, Environmental Stewardship disputes the classification of the discharge and facility as “minor” and will be asking EPA to evaluate that classification.  

Finally, Environmental Stewardship disputes that an adequate regionalization evaluation or consideration of alternatives was performed by the applicant or TCEQ staff.

What does this mean for the Colorado River?

The Colorado River, as it flows through Bastrop County, is normally recharged by groundwater flowing from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer group by way of the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer (CAA).
However, during wet seasons and flood events, when the surface elevation of the river is high, the river recharges the aquifers where water is stored. As a result of these alternating conditions, the alluvial aquifer exchanges water with both the river and the major aquifer formations in the Wilcox Group of aquifers.
Geologically, the land application site that The Boring Company (TBC) is requesting — known as a sprayfield — overlies the alluvial aquifer along the Colorado River (Qal – Alluvium, and Qt Fluviatile Terrace) and is near the outcrops of the Calvert Bluff, and Simsboro, aquifers where these aquifers exchange water with the alluvial aquifer. See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Geologically, The Boring Company’s wastewater disposal sprayfield overlies the Colorado Alluvial Aquifer (CAA) that is located within the Colorado River alluvium (Qal) and the fluviatile terrace (Qt). The CAA exchanges water with the river, the Calvert Bluff (Ech), and the Simsboro (Esb) aquifers. (Crop taken from the Geological Atlas of Texas, Austin Sheet)
Land application of treated wastewater over the river alluvium has the high probability of contaminating the river and aquifers unless best available technology (BAT) is installed.  Due to the location of the sprayfield, any effluent applied on this land very quickly percolates into the alluvial aquifer where it becomes a component of the flow of the river. Likewise, during high-water events in the river, the effluent becomes a component of the Calvert Bluff and Simsboro aquifers.
Environmental Stewardship believes that the effluent from The Boring Company/Gapped Bass wastewater treatment plant should be considered to be directly discharged into the river, and that the effluent standards should be set high enough to meet the objectives of the exceptional aquatic life use standard that has been set on the two segment of the river between Austin and La Grange.
Our expectation for the Colorado River — it’s tributaries, aquifers, and the ecosystems that nourish and protect the ecological environment in the lower basin that we call home — is that the industrial and municipal disposal of treated wastewater effluent into our ecological paradise is that it not be degraded, but rather be enhanced, as the other “ecological paradise” that is promised for the south portion of the Tesla property is installed and put into operation.


What does this mean for domestic and irrigation wells?

The Colorado Alluvial Aquifer (CAA), along with the Calvert Bluff and Simsboro aquifers, also provide drinking and irrigation water to residents all along this segment of the river. Many landowners in this area have long-established exempt groundwater wells that draw water from these formations.  It is essential that the drinking and irrigation water supplies for these landowners be protected from degradation and contamination. Protecting the river and the aquifers, also protects landowners.
Environmental Stewardship favors the practice of land application and reuse and is opposed to direct discharge that threatens water quality in the river and landowner wells adjacent to, and downstream of, direct discharge points. However, because of the geology of the region, the interchange between surface and groundwater, and other land-based recharge features, land application must be executed with extreme care and with thorough knowledge of the land characteristics, especially where conduits result in the interface and exchange of surface water and groundwater. As such, it appears that this isnot a good location for the requested sprayfield.
Environmental Stewardship also recognizes that land application, when done correctly, is far superior for water quality protection. However, poor operation, improper or lagging maintenance, improper siting, and/or insufficient treatment, storage, or monitoring of effluent treatment can lead to degradation of the river and groundwater. Lax enforcement of permit standards compounds these issues.
As such, Environmental Stewardship believes it is imperative that this permit contain sufficient conditions, monitoring, and operating requirements to avoid any de facto discharges of wastewater into surface or ground water, otherwise, the permit should be denied.