For several months the city has had concerns and has been closely monitoring the discharge from the wastewater treatment facility after the total suspended solids level in effluent discharge suddenly increased beyond the normal levels and exceeded the levels permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality [TCEQ].
New equipment installed by Saputo Dairy Foods to improve the plant's discharge into the city's sewer system did not perform as expected and resulted in problems at the wastewater treatment plant.
Although the problem was corrected to bring the discharge levels back within tolerance, City Manager Marc Maxwell said the state agency has stepped in.
“Well, we find ourselves under enforcement action from TCEQ,” he said. “We got a letter from them last week notifying us they felt like we had exceeded enough different parameters, enough time they were going to take enforcement action against the city.”
Maxwell said the enforcement process would usually mean correspondence between the city and TCEQ.
“They are going to want to levy some fine and we are going to argue that the problem was resolved before they even became aware of it and that it was not caused by our lack of attention,” he said. “In the end, there will be some kind of fine and, hopefully, it will be fairly modest.”
When the problem was first noticed, Maxwell said the city immediately began injecting more oxygen into the mix because that was the problem.
“What [Saputo] was discharging had depleted all of the oxygen in the mix by the time it got to the plant and then continued depleting the oxygen within the plant,” the city manager explained. “We did things like add blowers to the system to force air into it, hence more oxygen. We added hydrogen peroxide to release oxygen into the mix and that began to help. What really helped was when Saputo decided to revert to the old method of pre-treatment because the new method was such a colossal failure.”
With the old system back in place, things began to work back toward the normal limits.
“It's not an overnight thing,” Maxwell said. “What most people don't realize is the backbone of the wastewater treatment plant is not the machinery used but, rather, the micro-organisms that live within the mix. We are in compliance, but it is going to take months.”
For many years, the city's wastewater treatment plant was almost the model for the state and is now back within parameters. But, the city manager said, will take time to reach the desired levels of total suspended solids in the effluent discharged from the plant.
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