- By Elizabeth Findell American-Statesman Staff
A long-delayed Austin-area surfing lagoon will open Friday after reaching a deal with county officials in lawsuits over the park’s health and safety requirements.
Travis County will allow NLand Surf Park to open so long as it sends daily water-quality reports to county staff, said Thomas Weber, the county’s environmental quality program manager. The Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday morning to file an agreement to that effect.
NLand will test daily to make sure chlorine and pH levels are similar to those of a swimming pool, and that sediment and E. coli levels do not exceed county-approved levels, Weber said. Both NLand and the county will drop their dueling lawsuits, according to commissioners.
Travis County went to court in July seeking to halt NLand’s opening due to the park’s failure to obtain a swimming pool permit. County officials called it a threat to public safety.
Meanwhile, NLand sued the county in federal court, arguing the county was treating it differently than other area bodies of water, including at least two wakeboarding parks that didn’t require water quality permits. Officials for the city, which handles pool permits for Austin and unincorporated Travis County, said the wakeboarding parks feature bodies of water that aren’t lined, so they are viewed more like ponds that do not require treatment.
NLand’s 14-acre surf lagoon has a liner — making it more akin to a swimming pool, in officials’ view — and water collected from rainwater and runoff on the property. The company argued the lagoon was too large to meet swimming pool health standards, saying state filtration requirements would require pumps large enough to suck in swimmers. It instead created a system of oxidation to remove contaminants.
“We weren’t coming in there saying ‘This system isn’t going to work,’ we were saying ‘We need assurance from lab results,’” Weber said of the oxidation technique.
The park, near Texas 71 east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, is the brainchild of Colorado beer heir Doug Coors. Its inland lagoon, 45 times larger than an Olympic swimming pool, and wave technology are unique in North America, according to its creators.
“While this innovation outpaced regulation, I am glad an agreement was reached as this project represents the best of Austin,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez, whose district includes the project, said in the surf park’s news release.
The facility boasts “waves for surfers of all levels,” as well as a surf school, surf shop and restaurant.
Delays in the project brought a barrage of complaints from eager Austin-area surfers. Commissioner Brigid Shea said she appreciated their passion, but was concerned about the lagoon being filled with run-off water from the nearby highway and cattle facilities. The daily testing relieves those concerns, she said.
“This was an issue of water quality, not picky bureaucrats demanding how many lifeguards they have,” Shea said.
A company representative read a statement from Coors to the Commissioners Court Tuesday, thanking officials for their diligence in reaching the agreement.
“We are honored to be part of the Travis County community and especially proud to provide quality jobs and opportunities for growth to the local population in Del Valle,” the statement said.
After Friday’s grand opening, the park will first be open for a “warm-up period” from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, according to the release.
While the period of the water testing is indefinite, for now, Gómez and Shea said they wouldn’t be surprised if state lawmakers and health officials weighed in on permitting requirements for nontraditional water sports.
“The Legislature is coming into town and may have some ideas about the rules,” Gómez said. “This kind of technology, we hadn’t had it here.”