The City of Baytown today announced that the City will undertake discussions with the EPA and the State of Texas in connection with work on the City’s sanitary sewer system.
Since 2013, the City has been in a voluntary program established by the State of Texas Sewer program called the Sanitary Sewer Overflow Initiative (SSOI). The State’s program allows municipalities to direct resources toward corrective actions to reduce Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) which are prohibited by the Clean Water Act rather than use scarce resources to pay penalties for such releases of wastewater. This allows the municipalities to devote their resources to fixing the problems that are often caused by aging infrastructure, broken pipes, heavy rainfall and flooding events, rainwater runoff and illegal connections that make it difficult to prevent overflows.
As part of the SSOI, the City entered into a 10-year formal agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in 2013 to undertake substantial work to improve the performance of the sanitary sewer system, including increased inspections and repair of collection lines, lift stations, manholes, and to educate the public about dumping oil and grease into the sewer system that causes blockages leading to overflows. The work under the SSO Agreement with the State is scheduled to be completed by December 31, 2022, and the City has been working on a plan to propose to the State regarding the next steps to be implemented to undertake additional improvements to the City’s collection and treatment system.
While the City would have preferred to negotiate these next steps with the State through the SSOI, a citizens group named Bayou City Waterkeeper recently filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Baytown, in connection with allegations regarding the SSOs, even though the City was already addressing SSOs as part of the State’s program and had not yet completed the improvements in progress. Bayou City Waterkeeper’s Notice of Intent to Sue advised that they would seek penalties from the City, penalties could exceed $47 million dollars and made numerous other allegations regarding SSOs which the City’s data show to be incorrect. The City strongly disagrees with the claims made by Waterkeeper and looks forward to correcting the record.
As required by law, the Notice of Intent to Sue was also sent to the EPA and the TCEQ – the agencies who, by law, regulate Clean Water Act issues such as SSOs – so that those agencies can determine whether to take action as the primary regulators, rather than having private groups initiate litigation. The EPA and the State informed the City that they would be taking steps to address the Clean Water Act issues and would be filing a lawsuit to start the process of negotiating a scope of work with the City that is ultimately expected to lead to the formalization of the improvements in a Consent Decree filed with a federal court. The lawsuit was expected by the City and was filed yesterday in federal court.
Now that a complaint has been filed, the City will continue its cooperation with the State of Texas and now the EPA to negotiate the details of the plan that it expects will ultimately be agreed to with the EPA and the State of Texas. The ultimate resolution of the negotiations is expected to be formalized in a Consent Decree that will be lodged and entered by a judge at some time in the future, after public review and comment.
The City’s negotiations with the EPA are part of a decades-long national program that the EPA has been implementing with numerous cities and other local governments across the nation to reduce SSOs under the Clean Water Act. In Texas, consent decrees have previously been negotiated with Dallas, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and Tyler, among others.
The anticipated plan, when finalized, will supplement the City’s continuation of its work to upgrade its aging sewer system to keep up with the increasing demands of Baytown’s growing population and to provide enhanced service to the ratepayers.
“The City of Baytown has devoted more than $83 million dollars in the last 10 years to upgrade and improve its wastewater collection system and remains committed to continuing to renew and upgrade its system for the benefit of our ratepayers,” said Baytown Public Works & Engineering Director Frank Simoneaux. “The City will work with the EPA and the TCEQ to identify the next phase of work to address the needs of our community and our system.”