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Central Texas seeing potential environmental impacts from hundreds of sewage overflows in recent years

Posted: 6:58 PM, Mar 28, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-28 19:58:36-04
Brazos River

WACO, Texas — A future wastewater treatment facility near the Brazos River is raising concerns about what could happen in Central Texas communities if an overflow were to happen.

25 News filed an open records request with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality earlier this month to learn more about the number of sanitary sewage overflows there have been in our area and in Texas.

That open records request document reports around 300 SSO's in McLennan County over the last four years — that makes up around one and a half percent of the total number of SSO's in Texas over the last four years.

Within that data, just over a dozen sanitary sewer overflows were reported over the last four years with sources documented as City of Waco lift stations, treatment plant, collection system and Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewer System where some impacted or potentially impacted local waterways.

Most recently, last month, an overflow of more than 600,000 gallons flowed into Lake Waco — the City of Waco says this was caused by a power outage disabling a lift station.

How do these overflows impact our environment and water?

“Every single one has the potential to be dangerous" Dr. Jake Mowrer said.

Dr. Mowrer is an Associate Professor in Soil, Nutrient and Water Resource Management with Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension.

He says that if overflows go into large body of waters — like a lake or river — because of their size, it could help dilute potential harmful materials and bacteria dumped from overflows.

Thus, protecting our health and the wildlife around us — but there’s a concern for something that the naked eye can’t see.

"Picograms — I mean this is less than milligrams, less than micrograms — can affect aquatic life and hurt fish, but we don’t have the treatment technologies to remove them to below picogram levels.”

Dr. Mowrer says paper products and other solids and household chemicals that we flush could end up in our waterways after an overflow, and could end up at the bottom of a river or lake.

“They can be broken down into our environment if they’re paper products," Dr. Mowrer said.

"If they’re other kind of solids, there’s a spectrum of their breakdown ability."

Dr. Mowrer tells 25 News' Bobby Poitevint that solutions to these problems really rely on facilities always staying up to date on the latest technology, and also relies on you at home standing up and voicing your thoughts and concerns to government officials, especially during public engagement events relating to projects like this.