Sewage spill, Chronicle article : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Local coverage: fair use, etc May 25, 2000, 12:15AM State officials keep eye on sewage spill 2 million gallons enter city watershed By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle CONROE -- State environmental officials Wednesday were trying to evaluate the effects of a 1 million- to 2 million-gallon sewage spill into the watershed that supplies some of Houston's drinking water. "It could very well be that it's diluted and would not be a threat to the water supply, but we don't know right now," said Barbara Sullivan, environmental investigator for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. A lightning strike Friday disabled a pump and warning devices that should have alerted the Southern Montgomery County Municipal Utility District that sewage was leaking through a manhole in a wooded area, said a spokesman for AquaSource, the Houston-based contractor that operates the district. A daily inspection failed to detect the disabled pump Saturday and sewage continued to leak into an unnamed tributary of Spring Creek until the problem was discovered Sunday, spokesman Rick Melcher said. The equipment has been repaired and is back in service, officials said. The sewage should take about two weeks to reach water supply intake valves in Lake Houston because it will be slowed once it enters the currentless lake, said Wes Johnson, spokesman for the Houston Public Works and Engineering Department. "We have such an extensive testing, filtering and treatment process we will guarantee that this will not have an impact on drinking water," Johnson said. Nevertheless, city officials will be paying special attention to water entering the water plant and are keeping in touch with state officials, he said. He said about 65 percent of the city's water supply comes from surface water and Lake Houston supplies about 25 percent of that. Swimming could be hazardous in Spring Creek, the San Jacinto River between Spring Creek and Lake Houston, and the upper parts of the lake, said Anthony Bennett, public drinking-water specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Commission. "With a spill of this magnitude, even without any testing, I wouldn't suggest swimming there," Bennett said. He said human fecal matter in the sewage could contain deadly bacteria such as salmonella and shigella, viruses such as hepatitis A, and numerous other harmful microbes. Fishing should be safe as long as the catch is thoroughly cooked, he said. Conservation Commission officials in Houston were expected to begin testing waterways along the route of the spill and at the lake today, Bennett said. He said he hoped to have testing results by Friday morning. Sullivan conceded that although no fish kill had been reported, her agency was not aware of the problem until three days after the initial spill and therefore was not on the lookout for signs of pollution damage. Investigators were trying to determine whether the water district violated regulations by failing to report the spill within 24 hours as required by law, Sullivan said.

-- mike in houston (, May 25, 2000

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