The wastewater treatment plant for the small bayside community of Bayou Vista has been cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for releasing untreated waste into local canals.
The violation notice comes two weeks after officials from Municipal Utility District No. 12 said it was impossible for solid waste to get out of their plant and blamed brown water and foul odors emanating from an outflow pipe on ongoing construction at the plant.
After the release of the commission’s investigation report, the district’s attorney said a third-party company had been hired to correct problems at the plant, and the district’s board of directors would interview a possible permanent replacement for the plant’s management at a future meeting.
“I greatly regret any misinformation that went to the public,” attorney Michael Bacon said.
The sudden change of direction from district officials came after community members obtained a copy of an investigation report written by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about discharges from a pipe at the end of Pompano Street, where cleaned water from the district’s plant drains into Highland Bayou.
The report was written on May 26 but reflects observations made by a commission investigator on April 20.
The commissioner observed “floating solids” in part of the plant, some of which had been discharged out of the plant, according to the report. The investigator also found that water samples taken near the plant’s discharge area had higher-than-permitted levels of fecal bacteria in the water near where the water discharged from the plant.
Fecal bacteria can cause disease and an infection in people who come in contact with it.
The report appears to contradict claims made by representatives of the utility district to The Daily News and Bayou Vista residents in recent weeks.
Some Bayou Vista residents in April complained to the state environmental commission about smelly brown water coming out of the pipe at the end of Pompano Street. The residents claimed the water contained solid material they suspected was human waste.
District officials on May 12 denied the discharge was human waste. Officials said they believed the discolored water was a result of construction at the 30-year-old plant and because of increased water pressure in the wastewater system knocking sediment loose in the pipe.
Bacon at the time said solid human waste escaping the plant was an “impossibility” and the district posted a message online asserting the water entering the canal was clean and wasn’t at any time in non-compliance with the environmental standards.
Bacon acknowledged that the May 26 report contradicted those statements.
“I had not seen that report,” Bacon said. “Our engineer had not seen the report. I had not seen the report. Our board had not seen the report. I had never seen any results that we were in violation.”
The district confirmed the authenticity of the report, which was obtained by residents before it was sent to district officials, Bacon said. The district still believes the solid waste coming from the plant was an oily, sludge that came from pipes in the system — and was not completely untreated waste.
“It is something that develops out of the process,” Bacon said. But he acknowledged the commission’s report outlines pollution violations at the plant.
Amid the questions about the discharge from the plant, some residents also have said they wanted the district to better communicate when faced with questions about operations and discharges.
The district President Richard Matthews on May 28 posted a short note on the district’s website calling the report an “important issue” the board didn’t have at its last meeting on May 13, when some residents were expecting to receive more answers about their concerns about the plant.
Matthews on May 29 posted another letter and announced the board had hired an outside operating company to begin corrective actions at the plant.
“The board will be taking further corrective measures and considering permanent operations changes for the district at the soonest date possible,” Matthews said.
Galveston County Commissioner Joe Giusti, whose precinct includes Bayou Vista, on Monday called on the district’s board to be more clear about the risks posed by releases from the plant.
“The biggest part of the problem I think is that nobody of authority down there will notify the public that it is an issue,” Giusti said. He said the district should be clear if people should stay out of the water or avoid eating crabs or fish that come out of the local canals.
“It is a problem,” Giusti said.
Commission spokesman Brian McGovern late Monday said the discharges “likely have little to no negative effect on wildlife,” but could cause concern for people who are swimming in the water and might come in contact with it.
The commission has not fined the district but could take more formal enforcement efforts if the district doesn’t correct the issues, McGovern said.
The commission also is investigating complaints that were made about the discharges from the plant on May 21, May 22, May 23 and May 27.
The board has called a special meeting for Wednesday, during which board members are scheduled to meet in a closed-door executive session and “consider actions on operating matters.” The board will discuss personnel matters and interview two companies that could potentially take over operations of the plant, Bacon said.
The agenda doesn’t say what section of the Texas Open Meetings Act the board is citing to meet behind closed doors. Texas law requires public boards and committees to identify the section of the act they’re using to meet in private before entering a closed-door meeting.
The board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday.