News Feature | January 10, 2017

'Never Again': Utility Makes Protocol Changes After Contaminating Nature Preserve

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A Texas utility is making changes to its protocols after incurring a fine due to allegations that it released 2 million gallons of treated effluent into a nature preserve last year.

West Travis County Public Utility Agency General Manager Robert Pugh told KXAN: “Our goal is for this to never happen again. We are looking at doing some better best-management practices, working more closely on effluent management.”

The agency, located in central Texas, provides water and sewer service to about 25,000 people, according to its own records. It serves about 6,400 retail water customers, 1,900 retail wastewater customers, 13 wholesale water customers, and two wholesale wastewater customers.

The risk of overfilling at wastewater ponds prompted the utility to release treated wastewater.

“We had to do a controlled discharge, so we didn’t risk, basically, a dam breach or break,” Pugh said, per the report. He added that utility is working to strengthen its wastewater irrigation to prevent the ponds from getting too full going forward, the report said.

As an agency board member told Community Impact Newspaper in June, shortly after the controlled releases, “Controlled spills are emergency operations.”

The wastewater released by the utility is highly treated but not safe to drink, said Pugh, who began working with the utility after the alleged violations occurred, according to KXAN.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) originally hit the utility with a $10,000 fine. Pugh confirmed to KXAN that the organization “has already paid $8,000. TCEQ deferred $2,000 in fines, contingent on the utility’s compliance with terms in the enforcement order,” KXAN reported, citing TCEQ records.

Here are the alleged violations by the utility, per the report:

One of the utility’s storage ponds located just north of the Hill Country Galleria released roughly 1.8 million gallons of treated wastewater into the Balcones Preserve from May 19, 2016, through May 24, 2016. In addition, another storage pond located on the Falconhead Golf Course discharged wastewater that pooled on the course, and the pond’s liner was torn, according to an investigation report.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.