Environmental groups call for $20 million city investment to address private sewer line leaks in Houston – Houston Public Media


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Among a list of demands, environmental groups Tuesday called for the city to invest $20 million to repair certain sewer line issues in low- and moderate-income communities in Houston.

Advocacy organizations Northeast Action Collective, West Street Recovery and Bayou City Waterkeeper say private line sewer leaks are creating health risks to families and Northeast Houston residents.

Nonprofit group Bayou City Waterkeeper in 2018 served the city a 60-day notice of intent to sue more than 9,000 sewage overflows that violated the Clean Water Act and disproportionately affected lower-income Houston communities of color, according to the organization. The letter prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to file a federal enforcement action.

A federal judge in 2021 approved a legal settlement requiring the city to invest $2 billion in its sanitary sewer system through 2036. Under the consent decree, the city has paid $4.4 million in fines for past overflows and at least $1.4 million in penalties for ongoing sewage overflows.

RELATED: Houston’s Sewers Could Soon Get A Multibillion-Dollar Upgrade

But environmental groups say there’s something the consent decree doesn’t address— private laterals, which are lines connecting homes and businesses to the main sewer system.

Of the billions of dollars that will be spent over 15 years, none of it will be invested into fixing private sewer lines, especially in lower-income communities of color, Doris Brown, a co-founder of the Northeast Action Collective asserted on Tuesday.

“This is unhealthy, and we absolutely need help,” she said.

The city has reported 1,701 sewage overflows associated with private sewer laterals from July 2022 to June 2023, according to an annual report. That’s down from 2,636 overflows reported the year before.

Private sewer lateral leaks flow into streets, onto neighbors’ yards and into rivers and streams.

“For problems with private sewer laterals, the consent decree focuses on education and enforcement, rather than providing financial assistance for repairing broken sewer lines, as cities like Jackson and St. Louis have done,” according to the organization’s action plan.

Houston Public Works didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

“We see three years after this consent decree… that there are things happening but they’re not happening on a scale that will have a major impact on our communities,” Kourtney Revels, a Water Justice Organizer with Bayou City Waterkeeper said. “The gaps in the consent decree have created huge challenges in addressing Houston’s poo problem.”

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