The QueQue: 2012 rains mean SAWS sewer main breaks, Rick Perry as defender of women's health care?, Fracking and the Clean Air Act
Published: March 21, 2012
2012 rains mean SAWS sewer main breaks
Tuesday, San Antonio Water System employees were struggling to clean up a collapsed sewer main that sent 100,000 gallons of wastewater rushing into Rosillo Creek, where, according to the SAWS release, "a few dead fish have been observed." Last month, another SAWS press release reported that heavy rains had "overwhelmed" a sewer main off Austin Highway leading to a greater-than-100,000-gallon spill. Rain helped dilute the high-bacterial loads, so "no adverse impacts" were observed. The solution of dilution came to the rescue again when screening equipment at the Dos Rios Water Recycling Center was overloaded by January rains, sending more than 100,000 gallons of effluent into the Medina River. In Greater San Antonio, it's a fact of life: when it rains, sewage spills. It's something rate increases tied to $100 million in line upgrades and repairs is supposed to help alleviate as SAWS works to clean up its acts and appease a concerned U.S. EPA.
A spin through the file room of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality suggests how big this failing has been.
In the last few years, SAWS has received notifications of noncompliance from the TCEQ for dozens of spills. There were a reported 34 overflows of sanitary sewers on the Leon Creek Collection System in 2007 alone, according to TCEQ records. Spills are blamed on rags, debris, grease, roots, and vandalism. But typically the larger spills were the product of collapsed sewer mains. One such collapsed sewer main was responsible for a 120,000 gallon spill dumping into Leon Creek, according to an investigation dated February 5, 2010. Later that month a contractor hit a main, spilling another 90,000 gallons at Bandera Road and Huebner Creek. A notice of violation was issued on September 24, 2010, after 400,000 gallons of raw sewage discharged off Boerne Stage Road into Dry Leon Creek (a report on file with the TCEQ says staff later stressed the importance of checking "pump status" before leaving the station). SAWS fares better in drier years, but even during the driest year on the history books an estimated 60,000-gallon spill sent wastewater into a creek bed off Mauermann Road over two days in September. Many of those breaks have occurred over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, polluting the still very clean source of most of San Antonio's water.
Investments in repairs are "definitely something that we've stepped up in recent years," said SAWS spokesperson Sarah Gatewood. "This is us trying to get ahead of the game and keep our wastewater infrastructure in the best shape we can without bombarding our customers with huge costs at one time."