Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Sewage Bill Would Eliminate Reporting of Smaller Wastewater Spills

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A wastewater treatment plant is inundated by the Yazoo River floodwaters near Yazoo City, Mississippi in 2011. A new Texas bill could loosen the requirements for reporting sewage spills.

Update: On March 5, the sewage spill bill got a hearing at the Capitol. Read about that here.

Sewage spill reporting requirements could become less stringent if a bill filed by Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, passes the legislature.

The spill bill, HB 824, would exempt wastewater treatment facilities from reporting most sewage spills less than 1,500 gallons. (By comparison, a typical milk tanker truck holds between 4,000-5,000 gallons.) The merits of the sewage spill bill and others will be heard at a House Natural Resources Committee meeting tomorrow at the Capitol.

Right now, any amount of sewage spilled by a wastewater treatment facility or water utility must be reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Rep. Callegari was not available to comment on the legislation prior to the meeting. His office directed questions to Carol Batterton, Executive Director of Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT). WEAT consulted with Callegari on the bill and supports it.

The current requirements for sewage-spill reporting are antiquated and overly time consuming for utilities, Batterton says. She maintains that most spills are not significant and can be dealt with by the utility without reporting them.

“We found that over 75 percent of what was being reported to the TCEQ fell into this category of 1,500 gallons or less,” Batterton said.

But the TCEQ said the looser reporting requirement could be “problematic,” according to the fiscal note attached to the bill.

If the TCEQ is not required to be notified of a sewage spill within 24 hours, which is the current requirement, then it could “pose a concern” for the TCEQ’s ability to determine if the spill impacted human health, safety or the environment, according to the fiscal note.

It’s also hard to determine the exact volume of a spilled liquid.

“For example, an unauthorized discharge of 1,800 gallons could be estimated by a facility to be 1,500 gallons, and would therefore not be reported to the TCEQ,” according to the fiscal note.

“The people who work in the field are usually pretty good at estimating if they know when it started,” Batterton said about estimating the size of a spill.

Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, is filing a companion bill, SB 584, in the Senate. The TCEQ would not comment on the pending legislation.

The hearing for the House bill tomorrow is open to the public, and there will be opportunity for public comment.

David Barer is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.


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