A sewage treatment plant that recycles water serves the Ventana subdivision near State Highway 46 and Blanco Road in Comal County. A consultant for the Honey Creek Ranch development says a similar water recycling treatment plant will operate upstream of the pristine Honey Creek State Natural Area.
A sewage treatment plant that recycles water serves the Ventana subdivision near State Highway 46 and Blanco Road in Comal County. A consultant for the Honey Creek Ranch development says a similar water recycling treatment plant would operate upstream of the pristine Honey Creek State Natural Area. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report

A consultant in a planned subdivision has responded to concerns about a permit under review that would allow the discharge of treated sewage from the development upstream of Honey Creek, one of the most pristine waterways left in the Hill Country north of San Antonio.

Once the plant is up and running, treated wastewater would only be discharged to Honey Creek during heavy rains, real estate consultant Kelly Leach said. That’s because the subdivision would use recycled wastewater to irrigate its lawns and landscapes.

On Friday, Leach met with officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to visit Honey Creek State Natural Area and discuss the 2,347-unit subdivision planned for what is now Honey Creek Ranch off State Highway 46 in Comal County.

“We love water reuse,” said Leach, who said he is also a partner in the existing Ventana subdivision across Highway 46 from Honey Creek Ranch. “We think it’s best to use nonpotable water for nonpotable uses like watering common areas and landscape water, and that’s what we do.”

The Ventana subdivision also uses recycled water, he said.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Press Officer Aubry Buzek in an email said members of its water quality program and staff from Guadalupe River State Park attended the meeting with Leach, though she did not name them. She said they visited the proposed discharge point on a typically dry creek bed that drains into Honey Creek.

Asked if Texas Parks and Wildlife officials would take any action regarding the sewage treatment application, Buzek said the department was working on a comment letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the State’s environmental regulator.

Honey Creek Ranch is owned by Ronald and Terry Urbanczyk and their daughter, Kristin Urbanczyk Aljoe, according to county land records. The Urbanczyks also run Urban Concrete Contractors in San Antonio. They have not responded to repeated phone and email requests for comment.

Aljoe did not respond to a Facebook message from the Rivard Report, though she addressed the project in a comment on her Facebook page.

“This [wastewater] plant was in the works before my parents ever decided to sell their and my long-time home,” she wrote. “It’s the huge amount of development all around them that finally made them want to leave the ranch.”

The ranch is one of the largest properties upstream of the natural area, which Texas Parks and Wildlife has owned since the 1970s. Because of Honey Creek’s sensitivity, the department only allows access to the creek via guided tours.

Many conservation-minded people treasure the creek for its crystal-clear water that pours from multiple springs and the mouth of the longest cave in the state. It hosts an abundance of wildlife, including, biologists say, the Cascade Caverns salamander, a species under review for Endangered Species Act protections.

Water in Honey Creek flows past cypress trees on its way to the Guadalupe River near State Highway 46 in Comal County.
Water in Honey Creek flows past cypress trees on its way to the Guadalupe River near State Highway 46 in Comal County. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report

The permit currently under review by the TCEQ would allow the sewage plant to discharge up to an average of 500,000 gallons per day into the creek, although Leach said it would rarely discharge at all when finalized.

Leach said state codes require him to first seek a discharge permit before applying for a “Section 210 beneficial reuse permit” to allow the use of recycled water on the property. Storing the treated wastewater for irrigation in the neighborhood would help avoid discharging to the creek most of the time, he said.

“The permit will [be] for 500,000” gallons, Leach said. “That would be my maximum, but the only reason that we would discharge would be if it’s raining like hell.”

Aside from the sewer permits, the development still needs the City of Bulverde’s approval for its master plan.

In May, Bulverde City Council approved an application for a municipal utility district, a special tax district to fund wastewater infrastructure at the site. That district is now waiting on TCEQ approval, Leach said.

Bulverde Mayor Bill Krawietz said the City was not in favor of the district but could not have blocked it without having to provide sewer service to the development.

“There was a lot of people speaking out about this, saying ‘Don’t let this form,’” he said. “Well, that wasn’t an option.”

Naturalists familiar with Honey Creek have said potential sewage spills and stormwater runoff from the subdivision will inevitably pollute the water and disturb the high-quality fish and wildlife habitat there. Krawietz’s comments echoed those concerns.

“Even the best sewer system eventually has a spill, and that’s an environmentally sensitive and pristine area,” he said.

Leach said he has worked on sewer permits for three other developments in the area. He said the TCEQ holds the plants to “the highest standard that is available relative to treatment.”

Officials with the TCEQ have said its permits and enforcement would protect the Honey Creek’s water quality and wildlife habitat.

Mike Romans, a land surveyor and member of the Bulverde planning commission, had his doubts about whether the creek would remain in its current state.

“Our concern is that TCEQ, where they have regulations, they’re really not stringent enough for that delicate of an ecosystem,” Romans said.

Tom Anderson has been guiding hikes at the natural area since the 1980s and is a longtime member of the Friends of Honey Creek State Natural Area group. A former environmental science teacher, Anderson recalled taking high school students to the creek to study water quality.

“You don’t impress high school juniors and seniors,” Anderson said. “They’ve got their mind on something else, and it sure is not what you’re teaching.

“But this one kid, I never will forget him. The first time he saw the creek he said, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I’ve been within 20 minutes of here my entire life and I never knew it existed. This is beautiful!’”

According to past Friends of Honey Creek State Natural Area web pages, Terry Urbanczyk was at one point a member of the organization and hosted gatherings at Honey Creek Ranch.

“They let us use their ranch for several meetings where we had large groups,” said fellow Friends member J.W. Pieper.

“They built a big meeting house there, like a dancehall almost, on their property. They let us use that when we invited a bunch of the [descendants of the] old-time settlers that had settled around Honey Creek and the Guadalupe River.”

Today the area is home to more new housing projects than ever before. The City of Bulverde only incorporated in the late 1990s and has recently become a hotspot for development.

Romans, who serves on Bulverde’s planning commission, said many former landowners and ranchers have approached the City ready to call it quits and sell their land. The underlying reasons include changes in land use and property values as the greater San Antonio area continues to grow.

“We’ve had some tearful people come before [the] planning [commission] and say, ‘I really don’t want to give up my ranch, but I really have no choice,” Romans said. “’It’s not what it used to be.’”

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the Rivard Report's environment and energy reporter.