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April 6, 2007

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu, or Melinda Taylor, Director of UT Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, 512-232-3641.

Environmental Law Clinic Helps Travis County Residents Obtain Clean Drinking Water

AUSTIN, Texas—On Tuesday, 39 low-income families from  Plainview Estates, a small subdivision in eastern Travis County, obtained a promise from the Travis County Commissioners’ Court to provide funding necessary to obtain clean, reliable drinking water.  The Commissioners’ 5-0 vote to allocate $115,000 for the project was the result of a collaborative effort of the Environmental Law Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law and Austin Interfaith, a local advocacy organization. 

Plainview Estates is a small community that was established in the 1960s about 10 miles east of downtown Austin.  For decades, the residents relied on water drawn from wells on their property.  However, almost all of the wells in Plainview Estates have stopped producing water in the past five years, as Austin has grown and large subdivisions have been built in the area.  As a result, the residents have had to have water trucked in (at an average bill of $200 a month) or go to a fire station a few miles away to haul water in buckets.

The Environmental Law Clinic played an important role in the victory.  The Clinic students did legal research, analyzed engineering reports, and provided technical and budget information to the Commissioners to convince them of the merits of the project.  The students met with representatives of the local utility company and county staff and identified options for providing water service to the residents.

“This is a very important victory for the residents of Plainview Estates and I’m very pleased that the clinic was able to contribute to the effort,” said Melinda Taylor, director of UT Law’s Environmental Law Clinic. 

Taylor said several students have been working on this project for about a year.  “The Clinic was able to make a meaningful contribution to this project, because of our interdisciplinary expertise.  Our engineering students provided the technical analysis to the residents and our law students did valuable legal research.  The students were able to identify options for the community that were feasible to implement.”

Taylor explained that the next step is for the residents to complete an income survey, so that the county will be satisfied that they meet income guidelines for county assistance.  County Judge Sam Biscoe has requested that the surveys be completed within a week so that the court can take final action on a contract with the utility company next week.  The Clinic students will work with Austin Interfaith and the residents this weekend to coordinate the income survey.

The Clinic was established in 2005 by to provide legal advice on environmental issues to low income communities and environmental organizations, and to provide students with a hands-on experience practicing environmental law.

Related Links:

UT Law Environmental Law Clinic: http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/clinics/environment/

Professor Lynn Blais:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/blaisle/

Professor Melinda Taylor:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/met337/

Professor Wendy Wagner:
http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/wewagner/