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May 12, 2013

City unable to flush away wastewater problems

GREENVILLE — The City of Greenville continues to be plagued by problems associated with collecting and containing wastewater.

Six years ago, the city completed a multi-million dollar federally mandated program, designed to keep untreated water from entering creeks and rivers.

Last year, city officials dedicated and formally opened a new, $23 million wastewater reclamation center.

Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to conduct a public hearing before hiring a firm to study how to fix the system.

In a memo to the Council, Public Works Director Massoud Ebrahim said issues continue to crop up during heavy rains.

“The problem manifests in overflows from manholes and bypasses at the wastewater treatment plant during wet weather,” Ebrahim said. “In March 2013, the wastewater treatment plant experienced peak flows that exceeded the capacity of the new pumping facilities and resulted in flooding of one of the new buildings at the plant.”

The Council will conduct the hearing before taking a vote on a budget amendment to pay the Freese and Nichols consulting firm of Fort Worth a total of $137,900 to conduct an Inflow and Infiltration (I & I) study, during Tuesday’s regular session starting at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 2821 Washington Street.

Ebrahim said the city’s wastewater system has been troubled for years by the inflow of storm water leading to the overloading of the system.

“Overflows and bypasses are violations of the City’s permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA Clean Water Act,” Ebrahim said. “These events are harmful to the environment and expose the City to potential enforcement actions and penalties up to $25,000 per day.”

Ebrahim said Freese and Nichols has proposed a plan to assist in identifying and correcting the problems.

A public hearing is required under the City Charter, prior to the budget amendment, which will break down to a lump sum of $112,800 for basic engineering services, as well as  the design, bid and construction phase services; along with up to $25,100 for surveying services.

It is not the first time the City of Greenville has had to address problems in with its wastewater system.

The city received a letter in late 2007 from the Environmental Protection Agency, lifting a federal mandate Greenville had been under for 13 years and ending a program which had been one of the largest infrastructure improvement efforts in Greenville’s history.

The EPA issued an administrative order to the City of Greenville in late 1994, requiring improvements to the city’s sewer collection system. During periods of heavy rain, the wastewater system allowed some of the untreated water in the lines to leak out. The water seeped into storm sewers, then into nearby creeks and rivers and eventually into water supplies downstream.

An initial study revealed more than two dozen sewer basins across Greenville were in need of repair and the city was granted an eight-year window to finish the job.

The initial study and field investigation began in fiscal year 1996-97. The bulk of the excavation work was finished by late summer 2007. Approximately $18 million in bonds were sold to pay for the work, and an EPA fee was added to local water bills to pay off the bonds.

Ground was broken in July 2010 on the Sequencing Batch Reactor Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was brought on line in early 2012 after it was built next door to the former Wastewater Reclamation Center, allowing the expansion in the treatment capacity from 4.23 million gallons per day (annual average) to 6 million gallons per day (annual average).

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