By: Marks Richardson PC
Municipal utility districts were created by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) or a predecessor agency, or by an act of the Texas Legislature. They exist as political subdivisions of the state of Texas, authorized to exist by virtue of Article 16, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution, and granted certain rights and authorities under that constitutional provision as well as under various statutes enacted by the Texas Legislature and rules adopted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In the exercise of its powers, a district must not only comply with the state laws applicable to it, but is under the continuing supervision of the TCEQ and is bound by certain rules adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Justice. In addition, because most districts are located within the boundaries of a County, the extra-territorial jurisdiction of a city, and frequently a Regional Water Authority, the district is required to meet certain requirements and comply with certain regulations adopted by those governmental agencies.
The primary areas of responsibility relate to providing potable water to drink, collecting, treating and disposing of wastewater, and providing drainage and detention facilities. Districts also have the authority to create, own and operate parks, to provide security, to handle collection and disposal of solid waste, to provide street lighting, and in some cases, to construct and own roads. This article will talk about collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater.
Wastewater. What happens to all that water that you use and discard? The toilets flush the sinks, showers and tubs drain, and the garbage disposal makes the leftovers disappear. But where does it go, and what happens to it?
Everything you dispose of through your plumbing system goes to a pipe buried in your yard, which attaches into a District pipe, and travels through the District’s pipes buried throughout the subdivision and ultimately ends up at the District’s wastewater treatment plant. The system of pipes works on a gravity concept, with the pipes angling ever deeper into the ground as the pipes progress from your house toward the treatment plant. At some points, the pipes get too deep, and the process has to be started over. This is accomplished by installing a lift station, which is an underground pumping station that pumps or lifts the sewage up and deposits it into another pipe closer to the surface.
The pipes can handle a limited amount of wastewater flow, and anything that enters the pipes that clogs the flow will potentially lead to problems, including sewer backups. Grease in the lines, originating from the dumping of cooking grease down the sink, can cause particular problems, as it solidifies when it cools, creating a blockage in the lines. Blockages in the lines can result in the sewage backing up the line, which ultimately results in the sewage coming out of manholes or the drains in your home.
Eventually, everything you flush, garbage dispose or otherwise put down your drains will end up at the treatment plant. The plant can only treat waste that is amenable to biological treatment. The plant works by a system where good bacteria is introduced into the wastewater, and it eats the waste, discharging water and retaining the solids, which are then removed and are either disposed of at a disposal site or taken to a farm where the sludge is plowed into the ground as a fertilizer. The water continues to be processed, and once cleaned and disinfected, it is discharged into a creek, stream or bayou located near to the plant.
The plant cannot handle plastics, textiles, wood, petrochemical products, or anything that is not amenable to biological treatment. At its most basic level, that generally means the plant can only treat waste that has been or can be consumed by humans. Solids that get flushed must be removed and sent to landfills, at substantial additional cost. Chemicals, oil, pesticides and other non-biological chemicals that reach the plant can have a devastating affect on the treatment process, as they tend to kill off the good bacteria and stop the treatment process, requiring expensive cleaning and restarting of the plant. Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest not to flush the non-biological waste.
Virtually every district spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year treating wastewater. That is in addition to the money it will spend maintaining the sanitary sewer collection system and lift stations. You can help control costs in your district by being careful not to dispose of non biological waste in the sewer.