Harvey Damages Water-Related Infrastructure
A total image of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey is starting to come into focus, and the havoc extends well into the state's water infrastructure, including sewage spills and damage to superfund sites, drinking water systems and sewer systems, which bodes ill for small towns in Texas that struggle to afford the cost of repairs.
According to the Associated Press, among 58 Texas counties, five drinking water systems and seven sewer systems were knocked out. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have also reported 38 other drinking water systems are currently under notices for residents to boil water before drinking.
In addition to the systems that were incapacitated, 31.6 million gallons of raw sewage spilled across southeast Texas, and the hurricane knocked a small town’s new wastewater treatment system out of commission.
Further Infrastructure Damage
In Texas, four dams failed completely, while 17 others were damaged in some way. None of the dams or inoperable water or sewer systems were specified in the TCEQ report, however.
One major point of concern were the superfund sites in Texas; many of them have been cleared, but San Jacinto River Waste Pits has suffered damage to its protective cap, which exposed underlying waste material.
The Pits' dioxin levels registered at 70,000 nanograms per kilograms, more than 2,300 times the level that would warrant a cleanup, according to reports. The toxic chemicals do not dissolve in water, which results in the possibility of the danger spreading further. The EPA has yet to determine if this has happened.
Sewage Spills and Plant Destruction
In the wake of the hurricane, several million gallons of sewage have spilled across southeast Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, Harris and Fort Bend counties saw most of the outpour with 65 instances releasing 20.7 million gallons of sewage in Harris County, and another 9.5 million gallons wreaking havoc in Fort Bend.
"The magnitude and the nature of this flooding impacted facilities in a way that they could not operationally respond to," Andrea Morrow, TCEQ spokeswoman, told the Chronicle.
Among those plants that were damaged were Turkey Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in west Houston, along with Bear Creek Pioneers Park Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Two Harris County wastewater treatment plants were destroyed, according to the TCEQ, with other inoperable sites located in Jefferson, Brazoria, Orange and Washington counties.
Bruce Nichols, a resident who lived close to two of the incapacitated plants, told the Chronicle that the neighborhood had been asked to limit water usage while the plants were brought back online.
Officials have indicated that repairs will likely cost millions of dollars.
Patton Village Wastewater System Shutdown
Patton Village, a small town located northeast of Houston, had just had a new $10 million wastewater treatment system installed before Hurricane Harvey hit. The hurricane took the plant offline by both frying the circuitry and flooding a nearby municipal water well, leaving residents without access to clean water for weeks.
Leah Tarrant, mayor of Patton Village, told the Texas Observer that the damage was most prevalent in the Creek Dam and Lake Club neighborhoods, where a drinking water treatment facility, along with 90 homes, was also flooded.
Tarrant went on to add that the town’s wastewater pumps were being run on “Band-aid generators” until $150,000 of new electronics could be installed. The town also owes contractors $200,000 for manually pumping out the wastewater in the days after Harvey.
To help combat damage to the infrastructure sustained in Texas, grants are being provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that may alleviate some of the cost of repairs.
Tarrant has applied for such a grant, along with one from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that helps cities repair damage to facilities owned by the public.