We have a consent decree

It appears to be a done deal.

Houston would add $2 billion to its planned sewer system improvements over the next 15 years under a proposed deal with state and federal regulators that is expected to produce higher water bills as soon as next year.

The Environmental Protection Agency has long been concerned that Houston’s cracked, clogged or flooded sewer pipes spill waste into yards and streets hundreds of times each year, contaminating local streams in violation of the Clean Water Act. Eighty percent of area waterways fall short of water quality standards for fecal bacteria.

Rather than sue the city over these long-running problems, the EPA initiated negotiations nearly a decade ago, hoping to produce a “consent decree” specifying projects and procedures Houston would use to reduce spills by upgrading pipes, improving maintenance and educating the public on how to avoid clogging the city’s more than 6,000 miles of sewers, 390 lift stations and 39 treatment plants.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Tuesday that talks have been completed; his office expects the item to reach a city council vote as early as July 17.

“It’s good for the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I am proud to have resolved this long-standing problem in a way that will fix problems that have challenged our city for decades and will bring enhanced services to future ratepayers for decades to come.”

The deal would prioritize fixes in nine areas that experience voluminous spills during rainstorms. In an effort to reduce the more numerous spills that are a chronic problem when the skies are clear, the agreement would mandate a more aggressive schedule for assessing and repairing the city’s sewer system.

Houston also would commit to clean and inspect its 127,000 manholes and 5,500 miles of gravity-driven pipes every decade, to carry out more preventative cleanings in problem areas, and to emphasize its program to educate residents not to pour grease, oil and other fats down the drain.


It is unclear how much water bills would rise as a result of the federal decree. The city has begun a rate study that will incorporate the consent decree and other factors and suggest new rates to take effect in July 2020.

Some council members were told in preliminary briefings this spring that rates would rise about 4 percent in each year of the agreement, resulting in an increase of more than 70 percent by the end of the 15-year term, though Turner professed ignorance at that figure Tuesday. Other cities under comparable decrees, including San Antonio, will double their rates during their agreements.

Turner stressed that the projected overall cost of the deal is “substantially less” than the $5 billion to $7 billion the EPA was demanding in the Obama administration’s final year.

Despite the mayor holding a news conference to announce the agreement, the Turner administration considers the decree confidential, distributing it only to the elected council members and topping it with a memo that mentions fines for those who disclose its contents.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t understand the reason for keeping the decree secret. I’ll be happy if Council pushes back against that. As for water rates going up as a result, well, we should have been doing this a long time ago, and last I checked fixing broken things isn’t free. I’ll say again, how much is a lower level of fecal bacteria in your water worth to you? It’s worth a gradually increasing water bill to me.

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7 Responses to We have a consent decree

  1. Jules says:

    Turner has never been transparent

  2. Manny says:

    Up to 70 percent increase that is a lot of money and in 15 years, we will probably still be having the same problems.

  3. David Fagan says:

    Some of the persistent problems is when a chemical storage facility catches fire and rainbow colored chemicals flow into the drainage system, and an acrid, acidic smell fills the air.

    “Eighty percent of area waterways fall short of water quality standards for fecal bacteria.” I don’t know how people believe it is o.k. to kayak in Buffalo Bayou, or how it is encouraged by the Uptown TIRZ, which uses tax dollars to convince them out is o.k. to get into the Buffalo Bayou. What justification is given to allow a private entity to use tax dollars to convince taxpayers to do something harmful against themselves, like kayak the fecal polluted Buffalo Bayou?

  4. C.L. says:

    David, I’ve kayaked Buffalo Bayou on a number of occasions, from well west of 610 into downtown, and never have I had the inclination or desire to drink from or splash on to me that which I was paddling in. Same goes for when I was in Lake Raven in Huntsville, Lake Houston, the Colorado Loop in Columbus, Trinity or Neches river….

    Here’s what I don’t want to stand in or get on me – a puddle of piss underneath the urinal at a Rockets or Texans game.

    I take it you don’t kayak much. Give it try – great fun !

  5. David Fagan says:

    C.l. I can agree about the arena sports. I have seen what goes into the drains and into the Bayous. Just yesterday a vehicle slammed into a power pole knocking down a transformer. The oil in that transformer pooled and fed into the drain. I’m sure that oil is resting in the storm drain until it rains again, and it will be in the bayou. C.L., you are an adult, and can swim or Kayak wherever you like, but I am not getting into any water source around the Houston area.

    I don’t think it’s responsible for tax dollars to be used to encourage citizens to engage in something that has a potential health risk involved either. You may be a smart kayaker, but I’ve seen televised reports of the kayak race and not everyone is as conscious as you. I’ve seen people dunk their heads and faces in that Bayou water during the kayak race and it makes me nauseated. These racers need to be informed about the risks, ones you seem to be aware of, involved in being in that body of water. It should not be assumed that they realize the health hazard and assume the risk.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    I have canoed the Buffalo Bayou regatta, AKA Reeking Regatta. I didn’t drink the water, but I think some of you are bordering on hysteria. OMG! A drop of bayou water touched us. We’re all gonna die!

    You know, there are two kinds of people, basically. There are those at the campfire who, when their hot dog dropped in the dirt or ashes, refused to eat the hot dog. Then there are those who just brushed off the dirt and ate it anyway.

    You can pick up harmful bacteria at a public pool, even with all the chlorine they dump in it.

    For those of you who have never actually traversed the bayou, try it once before you bash it. I’m living proof that it won’t kill you, although I was a liberal before I did it, and now look at me, so maybe there’s something in the water.

  7. David Fagan says:

    I wouldn’t eat a hot dog that dropped on a dog turd at a campfire either

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