News Feature | November 22, 2017

Two Months Later, Wastewater Treatment Facilities Still Grapple With Harvey Fallout

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

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Even though Hurricane Harvey struck Texas over two months ago, several of Houston’s wastewater treatment plants are still working to recover from the fallout.

“Three wastewater treatment facilities in Harris County remain inoperable with more than $1 million in damages, as officials struggle to find solutions to get them back online,” reported the Houston Chronicle.

The three facilities in question are meant to serve large portions of the community. But because of damage from the storm, they currently cannot live up to their design capacities and may never return to operation.

A wastewater facility in Bear Creek Pioneers Park and one in U.S. Eco Park are expected to remain inoperable for several more weeks, maybe months, before they can go back to treating sewage and industrial discharge, per the Chronicle. Another facility, the Cedar Bayou Park Wastewater Treatment Plant, may never come back online.

“The storm’s destruction on the wastewater facilities caused about 149 million gallons of raw sewage and industrial discharge — including about 300,000 gallons at Cedar Bayou Park — to pour into neighboring communities and waterways, leaving operating officials scrambling to find temporary solutions while they tackled the major problems,” per the Chronicle. “It’s not clear which communities were affected or which plants were responsible for the spills.”

Harvey has been a stark lesson in just how much of a threat storm surge presents to wastewater treatment facilities and how arduous the road to recovery can be for them in particular. For instance, at the Cedar Bayou Park facility, stormwater totally decimated the equipment and structure.

“The evidence of Harvey’s wrath, and the 9 feet of water that came with it, were difficult to miss,” the Chronicle reported. “A dark gray line near the top of the tanks shows where water quickly crept up the plant. The control building, which houses chlorine cylinders and a now-useless backup generator, is covered in mold and remains soggy from being nearly submerged in water.”

Though it has been months since the storm swept through, recovering from such a major disaster is an incredibly difficult task. Recovery workers have been attacked by flesh-eating bacteria, for instance.

“In October, a 31-year-old man died after being diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that kills soft tissue,” Business Insurance reported. “The man worked repairing homes damaged by Harvey flooding, and bacteria from debris or floodwater most likely entered his body through a wound or cut.”

To read more about how utilities deal with storm surge visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Hurricane Harvey," mattbdiehl, 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/