Brimming wastewater ponds must be lowered to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’

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BEE CAVE, Texas (KXAN) – It seems most bodies of water in Travis County are filled to the brim, including wastewater ponds.

The West Travis County Public Utility Agency has two full wastewater holding ponds, resulting from ongoing heavy rains. The utility must lower the water levels in those ponds to avoid overflow, said General Manager Don Rauschuber. The utility will release about 2 million gallons from the two ponds. This is the second “controlled treated effluent spill” by the utility this week.

“The ponds are at full capacity and we cannot let them overtop … If they overtop, it may jeopardize the structural integrity of the pond embankments and cause a catastrophic failure,” he said. “I don’t think there is any chance for human contact.”

Rauschuber said his utility has permits to water two golf courses and an HOA with the “highly-treated” effluent. Due to the ongoing rains, those entities haven’t received, or needed, much water from the utility. That’s part of the reason why the ponds have filled to capacity.

Though Rauschuber said he believes the wastewater releases present no danger to public health, local environmentalist Bill Bunch said treated wastewater can cause issues, if it reaches a body of water or people. Bunch heads the Save Our Springs Alliance, which advocates for protection of Austin-area water resources.

“In a wet weather period like this, the ground gets saturated. So, they are having to irrigate when the ground can’t take it out,” Bunch said.

Rauschuber said the utility is permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to release the wastewater. The WTCPUA water is being pumped through pipes out of the two storage ponds.

Wastewater is being released from the Spillman Pond, located on the Falconhead Golf Course. That effluent will be pumped out into a two-acre easement between the pond and the golf course, Rauschuber said. At another location, wastewater is being pumped from the Bohls Pond located at 12900 Bee Cave Parkway, next from the Hill Country Galleria. The Bohls wastewater will be released onto the pond’s northern edge, where it will diffuse down into unoccupied City of Austin Conservancy land, he said.

If the wastewater runs all the way through the conservatory, Rauschuber said, it would run to a tributary and into Lake Austin. He said the utility does not believe the effluent is running that far. He also said the utility is not planning any additional pond storage space.

“I don’t anticipate this problem again in the future, unless we have a long extended time period of rainfall,” Rauschuber said. “This is not uncommon for wastewater utilities that have similar type of operations.”

WTCPUA advises anyone drinking from a private water supply well located within one half mile of the spill site, or within a potentially affected area should only use distilled water or water boiled for at least one minute for personal use. The public should avoid contact with the wastewater, waste material or soil in the affected area.

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