Tag Archive for: fecal contamination

Hidden Cost of Fecal Contamination: Removing It

Fecal contamination of water can have many health consequences. It can also have consequences for your wallet in terms of hospital bills and water treatment costs. The expansion of Houston’s Northeast Water Purification Plant will cost $1.765 billion.

Persistent Sewage Leaks at Colony Ridge

Yesterday, I reported on 48,000 gallons of sewage documented by the TCEQ in ditches and streams near Colony Ridge in Liberty County just before Imelda struck last year. Stormwater from that area flushes into the San Jacinto East Fork and Lake Houston. Any sewage not cleaned up from that particular spill likely wound up in the main source of the City of Houston’s drinking water.

Had it been a one time affair, it could have been explained as an accident. But the problems recur. Neither the developer, sewage contractor, County, nor State have managed to eliminate the frequent leaks.

Sewage Coverup

In fact, yesterday’s post contained photographs of one incident where the leak remained. A bulldozer had simply covered up sewage that leaked into the ditch adjacent to a road. It was as if the people responsible were saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” The sewage leak remains, though, and without remediation, the pollution will eventually wash down toward Tarkington Bayou, which also enters the East Fork.

Putting Water Test Results in Context

Two recent tests of samples taken within Colony Ridge by Eastex Environmental Labs showed fecal contamination on the order of 3,000 to 5,000 “colonies” per 100 milliliters. Just what does that mean?

One-hundred milliliters equals a little more than six tablespoons.

A website called Water Research Center contained a very helpful article that explains what fecal contamination can do in those concentrations. In addition to concentrations, it also discusses sources of contamination, health/environmental consequences and more. It said that the current US EPA recommendations for:

  • Body-contact recreation (i.e., swimming, diving, water skiing) is fewer than 200 colonies/100 mL
  • Fishing and boating is fewer than 1000 colonies/100 mL
  • Intake at water treatment plants for domestic water supply is fewer than 2000 colonies/100 mL.

The drinking water standard AFTER TREATMENT is less than 1 colony total coliform bacteria/100ml with E. coli ABSENT.

The presence of fecal contamination is an indicator that a potential health risk exists for individuals exposed to this water. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include but are not limited to:

  • Typhoid fever
  • Hepatitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Dysentery,
  • Ear, nose, eye and cut infections. 

Cost to Make Drinking Water Safe

On my last flight over Lake Houston, I flew over the expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant. Until you’ve seen this in person, it’s hard to believe how large it is.

The new plant will quintuple the amount of pure, fresh water available to customers in this area. The City is adding 320 million gallons per day (MGD) to the existing 80 MGD capacity for a total of 400 MGD.

In addition to conventional treatment processes, the new plant will include an advanced oxidation process called ozonation. Ozonation helps disinfect water to help ensure that harmful organisms such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium are eliminated. Ozonation also helps eliminate taste and odor causing compounds.

The intake facility shown below will finish next year, but the plant itself won’t finish until mid 2025.

The cost of this project is $1.765 billion.


Photos of New Intake for Plant

All aerial images below were taken on 6/16/2020. While the plant expansion will make drinking water safe, it won’t make all the water in Lake Houston safe as long as people allow fecal contamination to leak into it.

The expanded plant lies more than a mile from the intake in the foreground.
The expansion will occupy approximately 150 acres of the City’s 252 acre site.
The new intake pump station will be located approximately 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston to draw water from a deeper depth than the current intake. That, say the partners, will alleviate some water-quality challenges.
Construction of the intake pump station should finish in about a year.
The pipelines carrying water back to the treatment plant will measure 108″ in diameter.
That’s nine feet tall. About the height of that cargo container used as a construction office! Photo cropped and enlarged from wider image above.

The City and its partners have produced an easy-to-understand, yet informative website that documents construction of this project.

This PowerPoint, posted as part of the latest update is packed with photos that may inspire your kids and grandkids to become engineers someday. It shows the meticulous planning and attention to detail that goes into such a project.

Objectives for Project

According to the web site, the project has two objectives:

  • To support the region’s growth
  • To reduce subsidence

But the partner’s sell themselves short. The fundamental reason is to provide safe, clean drinking water, despite the pollution from places like Colony Ridge.

For the record, lest you think I’m picking on Colony Ridge, there are many other sources of water pollution. They include livestock, leaky septic tanks, runoff from streets and more.

We can all help by reporting spills and leaks to City, County and State authorities when we see them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/2020

1030 Days after Harvey and 279 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

48,000 Gallons of Fecal Contamination Found in Liberty County’s Colony Ridge Ditches, Streams; Problems Persist

Last year, the TCEQ found sewage coming from a lift station and sewers in Liberty County’s Colony Ridge development, the world’s largest trailer park. TCEQ estimates Quadvest, the water and sewer supplier in Colony Ridge, released as much as 48,000 gallons of sewage into Maple Branch Creek, a tributary of the East Fork, at a minimum, causing a fish kill (Page 51).

More recent independent laboratory testing has verified fecal contamination in at least two drainage ditches in Colony Ridge. Moreover, residents claim they have found fecal contamination in other Colony Ridge ditches and streams, too. It’s not clear whether those additional spills have been tested.

During heavy rains, fecal contamination can quickly wash downstream and eventually wind up in Lake Houston.

A major concern of residents is the frequency of sewage leaks.

Results of TCEQ Investigation

Maple Branch Creek carried black water into the East Fork.
In addition to the stench, neighbors noticed a fish kill. These two photos correspond to a TCEQ investigation in July 2019.

TCEQ cited Quadvest L.P., the sewage and water provider for Colony Ridge, for “unauthorized discharge of wastewater which resulted in a documented serious impact to the environment.”

A month after TCEQ documented this discharge, 33 inches of rain fell on nearby Plum Grove during TS Imelda.

More Recent Tests by Eastex Environmental Labs

Eastex Environmental Labs in Cold Springs collected and analyzed at least two sets of samples this year. The first was for Liberty County. The second was for Maria Acevedo, a concerned resident.

Both show significant fecal contamination.

First Eastex Report shows Fecal Contamination

Here are results of the first test and pictures of the sewage.

The first site on a ditch next to County Road 5023 showed 3090 and 3130 units of fecal coliform, with none detected in the control sample. Maria Acevedo photographed this problem on June 4, 2020.

Photo on June 4, 2020 by Maria Acevedo on CR 5023 where Eastex took samples.
Sludge oozing down same ditch.

Second Eastex Report Shows VERY STRONG Fecal Contamination

Samples collected and analyzed by Eastex Environmental Labs, eliminating chain of custody issues.

In the second lab report obtained by ReduceFlooding.com, Eastex Labs found 5120 units of fecal contamination per 100 milliliters in Frances Ditch on 6/19/2020. A second sample taken from the same location found 4870. A control sample detected none.

The lab told Acevedo that they found “very strong fecal contamination.”

Maria acevedo

Residents who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, contacted me about this site a week before Eastex sampled it.

Location of Second Sample Photographed on 6/12/2020

I photographed that ditch on Friday, 6/12/2020. It’s on the southeast corner of Colony Ridge. While there, I photographed cloudy water bubbling up out of the ground and running down a ditch toward Tarkington Bayou (see photos below).

Foul water and trail of greenish-brown sludge (left) bubbling up through ground…
…then flowed into ditch toward Tarkington Bayou at bottom of hill.
Close up of water/sludge in ditch.
Silt fence in ditch was propped up, ensuring foul water could ooze under it.
Farther down the ditch, contaminated water was pooling, and turning green and black.
In places, it had dried due to extreme heat. Temp was in 90’s.

Photos Taken Two Days Later Show Attempted Coverup

I came back two days later on 6/14 to explore the same area some more. The foul water still bubbled up, but someone with a bulldozer attempted to cover up the evidence in the ditch.

Sludge and contaminated water bubbled up from same hole on 6/14/2020.
However, the evidence in the ditch near the road had been freshly covered up by a bulldozer.

The Leaks Go On

If the incidents above were isolated, one might dismiss them. But they seem to be part of a larger, recurring pattern that neither Colony Ridge, Quadvest, nor Liberty County have stopped.

A resident says this sanitary sewer was leaking for more than two months into a ditch in a residential neighborhood and stunk like sewage. Photo by Maria Acevedo on CR5006 on March 18, 2020.

The largely Hispanic residents complain among themselves. But few reportedly file reports for fear of raising their profiles with authorities and perhaps answering difficult questions in court. Meanwhile, the sewage leaks go on. Both Colony Ridge residents and those downstream pay the price.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/23/2020

1029 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 278 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.