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Executive Director Jeff Saitas
Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission
Mail Code 109
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, TX 78711-3087

July 30, 2002

Dear Director Saitas:

Recent communications from your agency have put forward opposing positions on the Wastewater Treatment Facilities in the city of Lubbock, specifically with regard to prairie dog populations at the Lubbock Land Application Site (LLAS). We are writing to request clarification of your position on the site, and to ask that you document your reasoning for your position.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt organization that represents state and federal employees of public land management and pollution control agencies. PEER’s mission is to ensure that government bodies charged with protecting natural resources uphold decisions based on sound science and thorough adherence to environmental laws.

In a Notice of Violation to Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal dated June 3, 2002, TNRCC Water Section official James E. Jaggers blames prairie dogs for creating "conditions which could possibly lead to groundwater contamination." Without presenting corroborating data, Mr. Jaggers opines that the rodent burrows could direct effluent flows straight into the aquifer, and requires that the city of Lubbock "submit a compliance plan which outlines planned actions to control the prairie dog population across the LLAS."

The notion of prairie dog burrows leading to groundwater pollution doesn’t seem to pass anyone’s straight face test. How tunnels no longer than five feet could be a direct access point to a water table that lies between 50 and 90 feet underground is not explained in the notice or in any study from your agency. It is irresponsible to require prairie dog population control based on vague assumptions lacking supporting data.

Reason seems to have prevailed in more recent correspondence from your agency. In an e-mail exchange with Mr. Robert Rutowski dated July 22, 2002, TNRCC investigator Pat Cooke claims that prairie dogs are not the problem. Cooke writes, "The TNRCC has never stated that prairie dogs have caused groundwater contamination at this site," and goes on to explain that removal of the dogs is not required to satisfy the agency. "Please know," Cooke writes, "that the TNRCC will be attentive to all possible solutions, providing that protection of the groundwater resources beneath the Lubbock Land Application Site is achieved."

While these statements indicate a welcome reversal from the earlier policy expressed in the Notice of Violation, your agency has not yet amended the original notice to reflect the agency’s changed view. Indeed, the city of Lubbock is acting under the assumption that prairie dog "control" is the only acceptable way to bring the LLAS into compliance. In a letter to concerned constituents dated July 23, 2002, Lubbock City Council member Frank Morrison states:

There are several issues which we have to deal with regarding our land application site: 1) like it or not, TNRCC (a very powerful state agency) has told the City of Lubbock we must remove the prairie dogs from the land application site. We don't see any flexibility in their directive. 2) there are not enough willing citizens available to adopt all available prairie dogs. This is a similar situation with our animal control program. There are more dogs and cats than willing adoptors (sic) and they must be destroyed. 3) all prairie dogs cannot be captured, therefore, some must be destroyed.

Morrison goes on to explain that the only aspect of the process in the city's power over is the method of prairie dog control. He notes that financial constraints make it impossible for the city to be "advancing fruitless initiatives to 'humanely' deal with the prairie dogs," helpfully explaining that "making tough decisions is why I'm 'paid the big bucks.'"

In light of the agency’s contradictory positions and the confusion they are causing in Lubbock, PEER requests that TNRCC:

  1. Explain your position on the causes of groundwater pollution at the LLAS;
  2. Provide evidence of studies that support your position; and
  3. Issue an amended notice of violation to the city of Lubbock, making it clear that prairie dog control is not the only compliance method required..

We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Scott Royder, Director
Texas PEER

CC: Patrick Cooke
Mayor Marc McDougal

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