Sludge in the San Bernard
Posted on Jan 1st, 2022
Sign posted by a concerned river resident at site of City of Brazoria Waste Water Treatment Plant discharge pipe just north of FM 521 bridge.
Sludge in the San Bernard
Report of a Water Quality Issue on the River
By Justin Hillis
FOR Environmental Committee Chair
Friends of the River (FOR) San Bernard received a report on April 22, 2021 from a river resident of what smelled like wastewater being discharged into the San Bernard River. It was investigated and determined to be coming from the City of Brazoria Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) discharge pipe.
FOR is now actively engaged with the City of Brazoria, Brazoria County Commissioner David Linder, Brazoria County Health Department, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas General Land Office (GLO), Texas A&M Agri-Life and State Representatives in Austin to expedite the permanent fix of the wastewater treatment plant as well as find a temporary solution in the short term.
With help from our State Representatives, GLO finally released grant funds for the permanent fix of the City of Brazoria WWTP early this month (Dec.). Release of these funds will allow the City of Brazoria to begin the engineering phase of the project with proposed construction starting in August 2022 and proposed completion date 12 to 18 months later.
Given the long lead time on the engineering, bidding process and actual construction award, FOR, with the City of Brazoria plus outside experts that FOR has engaged, are helping find a cost effective solution to put a temporary fix in place.
Primary problem at the WWTP is the aeration basin is completely full of sludge, dirt and sand. This does not allow the proper aeration for aerobic action and settling of the solids. Unfortunately there is no way to take this aeration basin out-of-service short of cutting off the water supply to the residents of Brazoria.
FOR's primary focus now is to help the City of Brazoria find a way to desludge the aeration basin in the next couple of months. Currently there are several companies working on proposals to do this. We have not seen their proposals yet but will hear shortly after the new year. Once FOR has these proposals it is our goal to get them in front of the Brazoria City Council to fund one of them.
TCEQ has been monitoring the WWTP almost weekly since the issue was originally reported to them back in April. Most of these inspections by TCEQ have found that chlorine levels have been adequate to kill any active bacteria. FOR has also looked at the last 20 years of compliance history for the other 18 WWTP's that follow into the San Bernard. They have all had issues in the last 20 years but Brazoria is by far the worst offender and has been on TCEQ's radar for years. FOR is prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the flow from the Brazoria WTP cleaned up as soon as possible.
FOR Director Tom Ronayne adds, “We have talked to a number of county and state agencies to try and determine if there are any adverse health effects of the partially treated but completely chlorinated discharge into the river. The state agency that monitors health issues for fish consumption says gutted and cooked fish from the river are safe. They concern themselves more with oysters that are eaten whole and raw or incompletely cooked, or with fish exposed to mercury, PCB's, etc.
As for swimming, no one has been able to tell us with any certainty what the health effects are, but the consensus seems to be that chlorination and the tremendous amount of dilution when it enters the river mitigate the impact. Any natural river or lake, including the San Bernard, has small amounts of bacteria or pathogens at any given time due to hogs, cattle, pets, septic systems, etc. People with open wounds or compromised immune systems should be aware of that. I personally will avoid pulling my grandkids on water toys in that immediate area, but I believe the concentration of any harmful organism will be at "normal" levels at some distance away from there.”