Apr 17, 2024 - News

Houston advocates pressure city for sewage overflow funding

Photo of a group of people in yellow shirts in front of a home.

Sade Hogue in front of her home, which Northeast Action Collective and West Street Recovery have stepped in to repair. Photo: Shafaq Patel/Axios

Local organizations are demanding the city create a $20 million private sewer pipe repair fund to help fix sewage overflows into homes and yards.

Why it matters: The proposed fund aims to alleviate the burdens on low-income Black and brown communities, where research has shown sewage overflows disproportionately persist, leading to health and lifestyle issues.

Catch up quick: Sewage pollution has long been an invisible problem across flood-prone Houston.

  • As part of a negotiated settlement in 2021, the City of Houston agreed to invest $2 billion in local sanitary sewer upgrades over 15 years after a Bayou City Waterkeeper investigation highlighted the issue.
  • Three years have passed, and the city has been repairing public sewage lines. As of 2023, the city had completed 35 of the 81 "early action" projects already planned under the consent decree, per Bayou City Waterkeeper.

Yes, but: Bayou City Waterkeeper says that historic damage has degraded private lines connecting homes to the public system and that those problems won't be fixed by just public line repairs.

State of play: Northeast Action Collective, West Street Recovery and Bayou City Waterkeeper spoke at City Council's weekly public comment session yesterday, pushing for policy change.

  • They say the allocation of funds would allow families to fix their sewer lines and related damage, as well as pay for the health impacts of sewage overflows, particularly in northeast Houston.
  • They want the city to find $20 more million to repair private pipes, or one penny for every one dollar it is spending on the public system.
  • Representatives of Bayou City Waterkeeper suggested the city could apply for federal grants to cover it.

"This is a structural problem with a policy solution," Bayou City Waterkeeper's Kourtney Revels said at a press conference yesterday.

By the numbers: From April 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023, the City of Houston reported 2,809 overflows from its own system, but 4,434 overflows from private sewer pipes.

Case in point: Sade Hogue's home in Northeast Houston has been in her family for three generations. She said at the press conference that despite paying more than $25,000 for sewer repairs, the problems persist and have worsened after Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri.

  • For years, her family has been dealing with "exploding toilets." There's raw sewage accumulating under her home, where she lives with her husband and two children, and in the summers, there are "poopoo vapors coming out into my yard," she said.
  • Her home also sits on the fence line of a private metal recycling facility, which affects her backyard, compounding the health issues and environmental challenges, she says.

What's next: Council members thanked the speakers yesterday, but no specific legislation or next steps from the city were discussed.

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