City Council mulls major wastewater system overhaul - Water and Waste Water Jobs Water and Waste Water Jobs: News Details

City Council mulls major wastewater system overhaul


Corpus Christi -- At a May City Council meeting, city officials pitched a $764-million-plan to shutter three of the older plants and build a new plant along the city’s northwest corridor. The plan’s obvious wart was a hefty price tag, but city officials and highly paid consultants argued it was the best alternative long-term to treat billions of gallons of sewage annually before releasing it into nearby creeks and bays. For an extra $185 million, the council would be buying cost savings in operations and future, presently unknown upgrade requirements to meeting evolving regulatory standards. The consolidation plan also called for a large expansion and modernization of the treatment facility that serves the growing Southside, and it set the stage for a natural public-private partnership for industry to purchase the treated effluent water. Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's UV channels Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's UV channels seen during a tour on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (Photo: Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times) The council wasn’t interested. Not in that plan, or any of the 10 presented as part of thorough analysis of the city's aging treatment system. Council members, with eyes on other budget-dominating infrastructure needs like the streets and drinking water system, instead opted for stripping down the cheapest alternative and supporting a $579-million proposal from City Councilman Greg Smith. Joining the opposition was City Councilwoman Lucy Rubio, who represents the area of the city perhaps most impacted by the dilapidated wastewater system. During the discussion, she emphasized the council’s desire for “the best bang for our buck.” The seemingly final decision backed by a large majority of the policymakers quickly showed signs of fracturing. By the next day, Rubio announced she had a change of heart about a plan centered on the reliability of facilities built in the mid-1900s. Now the council is set to decide Tuesday how to fix a system that allowed untreated sewage to overflow more than 7,000 times between 2007 and 2015. Living in Greenwood's shadow The council voted to commit nearly $600 million to the wastewater system, but that means little for residents living in the flood path of a decades-old, overflow-prone wastewater plant on the city's west side. Ruben and Imelda Garcia have lived on Calle San Miguel – about half-a-mile from the Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant – for 30 years. They've grown accustomed to the pungent sewage smell, but they refuse to quietly accept the risk of human waste flooding into their home anytime there's substantial rainfall. It's happened to them at least twice before. In 2010, 16 inches of waste-filled water saturated their property inside and out. A few years prior was worse — Imelda Garcia remembers seeing human feces while wading through chest deep water to retrieve belongings. Wastewater collected in Corpus Christi is treated Wastewater collected in Corpus Christi is treated in the Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's aeration basin. Odors and flooding from the plant has fouled homes near the plant. (Photo: Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times) "Humans shouldn't have to deal with that sort of thing," Ruben Garcia said. "It's unacceptable." The council’s indicated direction includes provisions for “flood-proofing” the Greenwood facility, but those are empty promises for the Garcias. There’s been talk before of fixing the problem with no meaningful action, Ruben Garcia said the day after the council’s vote. As the couple nears retirement and Imelda Garcia faces medical issues, buying a new home right after they finished paying off their current one isn't an option. Their property appraisal value indicates the Garcias would be lucky to get $62,000 for the home — hardly enough to get a house in a better part of town, Ruben Garcia said. So instead he works daily at maintaining his lawn, painting the home's exterior and keeping up with maintenance needs, but those efforts are nearly erased when it floods. All they want is to get the same treatment as other taxpayers in the city, and Ruben Garcia doesn't believe the city's adopted wastewater plan does that. "I don't know if that's going to solve the stench," Ruben Garcia said. "The tanks are still there, and they're old. A bad rain or just time will lead to more (flooding) problems. The plant just needs to be shut down." Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's primary clarifiers Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's primary clarifiers seen during a a tour on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (Photo: Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times) The city’s recommended option called for closing the Greenwood plant – along with the Alison and Laguna Madre sites – but most council members have contended those plants can be repaired and meet state and federal standards under their plan. “The major issue with Greenwood is it’s been flooding – that’s why they said to relocate it,” said Smith, who proposed the council’s direction. “If you fix that and the headworks (source of the odor), you’ve taken away those problems.” Smith added there is already an approved capital projects spend on fixing the headworks at the facility that is leaking sewer gas and causing the pungent aroma. Still, it’s not unanimous. Members of the council from both sides of the vote are now criticizing the longevity of a plan centered on infrastructure built in the 1950s. "These are old, dilapidated plants," City Council member Carolyn Vaughn said. "It’s like buying a 20-year-old truck and trying to make it new — it’s not going to happen, and they don’t even know what the problems are under the hood." "It’s wasting money, plain and simple," she added. Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's bar screens Greenwood Wastewater Treatment Plant's bar screens show the age of plant, which faces major upgrades or closure. Residents want the Greenwood plant closed because of his foul history of flooding and septic odors. (Photo: Courtney Sacco/Caller-Times)

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