WEST HOUSTON CAN NOW FLUSH IN GOOD CONSCIENCE When last we (and the aircraft supplying aerial images to NOAA) left the West District wastewater treatment plant along Buffalo Bayou just outside Beltway 8 at the flooded southeast corner of Memorial Glen, it looked like this: shut down and surrounded by muddy floodwaters sorely in need of its services. That was September 3rd. As of this morning, the city’s Office of Emergency Management reports, both this plant and the one on Turkey Creek off Eldridge between Briar Forest Dr. and Memorial have been restored to full operation. This means persons in ZIP Codes 77024, 77041, 77043, 77055, 77077, 77079, 77080 and 77094 who had been following guidelines to limit their water use are once more free to shower, flush, brush, and otherwise send wastewater down their drains without special consideration of the consequences. [Alert Houston; previously on Swamplot] Aerial image of West District plant from September 3: NOAA
Yes, there are spots where Harris County public health officials have determined it’s still not safe to drink the water. And here they are: Areas still under drinking-water advisories are marked in red in the above interactive map; areas where advisories issued after flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey have already been lifted are marked in green. Click on each area and a popup or panel will provide details. The county promises to update the map every 24 hours. A full-browser-width version of the map is available here.
Map: Harris County Public Health
If you are the owner of the bottom half of a red Ford Ranger left in Brays Bayou near Wayside Dr. some time in the last 20 years, your vehicle may be waiting for you in HPD’s impound lot. The pilot program intended to test out a procedure for fishing out the 127-or-so vehicles mapped beneath the surface of a few of Houston’s waterways reeled in its 20th and final car over the weekend before the $49,500 project grant ran out.
The removals started near the Wayside bridge over Brays Bayou in late January, then moved upstream of the crossing of Lidstone St. on the 29th; last Friday, operations jumped down to Sims Bayou to score a few final sets of wheels. Harris County Flood Control District, which oversaw the fishing trips, tweeted that project executives will now meet to discuss future removal plans and compare notes on the process, which involved divers from Saltwater Salvage submerging to attach giant yellow floaties to the sunken vehicles:
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Stirring Up Mud in Gulfgate
Some zoomy conceptual renderings of the University of Texas’s coming Houston campus, centered on the largely undeveloped intersection of Buffalo Spdwy. and Willowbend Blvd., made their debut at last month’s Board of Regents meeting, where the intended purchase of land for the project was announced. Buffalo Spdwy. gently winds through the drawings of the new campus to a track and several baseball diamonds along Holmes Rd. (which runs horizontally across the top of the image above).
Although the images are only “concepts”, the pictures do provide a sense of how the campus might unfold: For example, that linear water feature shown at the center of the campus aligns with an existing drainage ditch on the property, and the 3 long, low structures in the foreground are good candidates for parking garages, which will be needed regardless of the new institution’s yet-to-be-decided purpose.
Existing residential communities and industrial parks are here rendered as sparsely-treed fields — the boundary of the land slated for purchase by UT currently houses several apartment complexes on the north side and the Orkin Industrial Surplus facility to the south.
But another conceptual rendering (this one looking northwest across Holmes Rd. towards the distant Williams Tower) shows the campus in place amongst some of its eclectic neighbors:
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Welcome to the neighborhood
SEWAGE NOW FLOWING PROPERLY UNDER GULF FWY. AGAIN That pipe break spotted underneath an I-45 South overpass leaking what appeared to be raw sewage onto a concrete path adjacent to Brays Bayou last week has now been repaired — or at least covered with a new sleeve. A photo of the fix also shows flood-remnant bouquets still intact along the pipe’s length at the bayou crossing south of Idylwood and just east of Telephone Rd. Photo: Allyn West
There’s a busted pipe hanging under the Gulf Fwy. overpass as it crosses Brays Bayou, just east of Telephone Rd. and south of Idylwood in the East End. The pics shown here were taken late yesterday afternoon, though some sort of liquid had been seen dripping from the break at various points over the weekend.
Grassy remnants of last week’s high water on Brays Bayou can still be seen hanging from various points along the pipe’s length:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THE WATER IN YOUR NATURALLY FILTERED BAYOU-SIDE SWIMMING HOLE IS GOING TO BE BROWN “I’ll bite. Here’s a very simple engineering analysis.
Problems with stream-fed swimming pools in Houston are going to be three-fold:
1) Silt (in engineer-speak, Total-Suspended-Solids or TSS). TSS is treated with sedimentation basins. That can be a large pool (that people don’t swim in) adjacent to the real pool. In water/wastewater treatment plants, a coagulant like alum is usually added to sedimentation basins to make TSS precipitate out quicker. If you’re going to do this with no chemicals, you’ve got to be willing to accept either VERY long treatment times, or only partially successful results. The tiny diameter of the clay particles that make up the TSS in our bayous just flat out won’t come out of suspension without a coagulant, so the water WILL be brown. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker — the water in Galveston’s brown too.
2) Bacteria (in engineer-speak, total coliform count). See here. Usually these are E. Coli, algae, and some protests. ALL streams/lakes/oceans in the entire world have this, even the cleanest and clearest. Realistically, to get an insurance policy to operate, the water’s going to have to be disinfected to some degree. That means chlorination (chemicals), ozonation (chemicals), or UV disinfection. More on UV in a minute.
3) Dissolved oxygen content. You don’t want the water to turn anaerobic. If there’s enough carbon-containing compounds dissolved in the water, the bacteria naturally in the water will eat it rapidly, causing the bacteria to use up all the oxygen that’s already dissolved in the water. This leads to any/all fish in the water suddenly dying off, as well as noxious smells and other really terrible stuff. You can make sure the dissolved oxygen doesn’t drop by filtering out carbon containing compounds (takes chemicals), or using aerators. A dual-way to solve the #2 and #3 issues is by passing the water over a very shallow (less than 6-in. deep) bed of rocks at a fast speed. Think rapids. This lets the water simultaneously re-oxygenate and also absorb huge amounts of UV. This might be the sort of silver bullet that makes this possible in Houston.
So: This is going to be expensive, but it’s probably do-able. However, the water is still going to be brown. Sorry.” [Ornlu, commenting on Bayou Swimming Hole Promoters Jump To Kickstarter To Jumpstart Project] Illustration: Houston Needs a Swimming Hole
A LOOK AT SOME OF THE LIQUID POO FLOWING ONTO COLQUITT ST. IN MONTROSE A reader wants to be sure Swamplot readers are alerted — as city inspectors, the HPD’s environmental division, and the property manager have already been, the reader says — to the “recurring” problem of raw sewage flowing out from the Takara-So Apartments at 1919 W. Main St. and into neighboring storm drains. The photo at left, taken on Monday, shows the sewage (“you can smell it”) along Colquitt St., pausing for a bit of sun on its way to lower-lying bayous and waterways. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DON’T YOU DARE TAKE OUR DALLAS SEWAGE AWAY “More and more cities (recently, San Antonio) are applying for permits to close the loop, and reuse their own treated effluent that their wastewater treatment plants previously discharged into rivers. With most cities in Texas scrambling to find more water sources, and at higher costs, this is the future. The problem is, all of the downstream cities depend on those effluent return flows for their own water systems. In the future, Houston could be going to court to try to force Dallas to keep sending its poop water down the Trinity!” [Semper Fudge, commenting on Yes, You’ve Been Sipping What Dallas Has Been Flushing] Illustration: Lulu
YES, YOU’VE BEEN SIPPING WHAT DALLAS HAS BEEN FLUSHING “For the large chunk of population that lives downstream from a big city and whose water supply flows through a river, more than a few drops of the water in their glasses was probably once in someone else’s toilet,” Neena Satija drily notes in her reassuring survey for the Texas Tribune of sewage-treatment projects throughout the state. Her story is worth checking out for the animated image diagramming the flow from a Fort Worth-area toilet to a Houston highball glass alone (excerpted screenshot shown at left, above), but she does stir up some oft-repeated local poop: “Let’s start with Houston, which, as Texas State University professor Andy Sansom says, ‘has been drinking Dallas’ crap for decades,’” she writes. “Wastewater from Dallas and Fort Worth is deposited into the Trinity River, where it flows down into the lakes that supply Houston residents. The wastewater is so clean that it’s credited with helping the Trinity River stay strong during recent years of severe drought.” [Texas Tribune; previously on Swamplot] Illustration: Todd Wiseman/Alessandro Suraci/Luis Prado
WHERE THE POOP IS, IN AND AROUND LAKE HOUSTON “While some Houston bayous, such as Buffalo and White Oak, have bacteria levels seven times higher than Lake Houston’s watershed, the waters flowing from the San Jacinto River are more vital, said Steve Hupp, Bayou Preservation Association spokesman. . . . Houston’s drinking water is pumped from an area of the lake not contaminated with bacteria.
Only the northwest corner of the lake is impaired, records show. This segment runs from where the river intersects Spring Creek, winds through Humble and past the Kingwood golf course, and ends at the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge.
The bacteria level found in the lake segment exceeds the state standard of 126 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water by 100 percent. Levels on both the river’s west or east forks are lower — exceeding the standard by 25 percent to 56 percent, depending on the segment. Yet a small tributary, Crystal Creek, which feeds into the west fork, has the highest count. It exceeds the state standard by 168 percent.
The communities along the San Jacinto watershed are experiencing a boom in development, especially around the river’s west fork in Montgomery County. Exxon Mobil already has a new 385-acre corporate campus that will be home to 10,000 workers under construction there, while the Boy Scouts recently sold their nearby 2,175-acre camp to a master-planned community developer for a reported $60 million.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Lake Houston: Sara Robertson (license)
That stolen 1985 Fiero GT that HPD officers pulled from the bottom of Lake Houston last summer after a 22-year soak is now available for sale online, a reader notes. Damaged-car auction site Copart (pronounced “CO-part,” not “COP-art”) features the mangled, muddy mess in an extensive photo gallery, and pegs the car’s actual cash value (before the minor flooding incident, of course) at $2,000 — same as the estimated cost to repair. Minimum bid for the fiberglass-paneled former vehicle: $175. Houston’s Art Car Parade is less than 3 months away.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: WE’VE MOVED ON “Most of Houston gets its drinking water from Lake Houston. It’s full of old cars, batteries and tires. There’s no need to worry about a little gasoline in the groundwater. :)” [jgriff, commenting on Harris County Sues AT&T for Leaky Underground Fuel Tanks]
NEW BRAUNFELS RESIDENTS APPROVE TUBING CAN BAN By a wide margin, New Braunfels residents voted to uphold an ordinance passed by city council over the summer that will prohibit Comal and Guadalupe River tubers from using disposable containers within the city limits. Supporters of the beer-can ban, which takes effect January 1, hope it’ll limit pollution from visitors; layers of tossed aluminum cans have been found lining riverbottoms after peak tubing season weekends. A group of local business owners has already filed suit to block the ban, claiming it violates state law. [San Antonio Express-News; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Lelombrik
Low water levels have exposed more Lake Houston automotive bounty than just that mid-eighties Pontiac Fiero that was liberated from the city’s water supply over the summer: There’s lots more tires and car batteries to be found, too. Before the weekend’s rains threatened to cover it all up again, area residents pulled various debris and about about 100 tires found wedged in the mud from an old abandoned fish camp and marina at the end of Stillson Rd. on the city reservoir’s east side.
Photos: Roger Randall