AUSTIN (KXAN) — Approximately 25,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into Bull Creek near Old Spicewood Springs Road on Saturday, according to Austin Water.
The water utility updated KXAN that crews should be working on removing excess sewer water from the creek until Monday afternoon. Austin Water explained to KXAN that this sewage spill was not the result of any illegal activity, but rather the gradual buildup of things which are not supposed to go down sinks and toilets (grease, rags, wipes, etc.) which clogged the sewer line and sent water into the creek.
Drinking water was not affected, the water utility said. People who live nearby were also notified to stay out of the creek while the spill happened
Austin Water staff estimate that 165 fish were killed because of the spill. Crews were able to pump sewage from the creek and clean up solid material that flowed in.
A spokesperson for Austin Water said crews responded to a report of sewage overflow from a manhole around 4:30 p.m Saturday. The city says crews were able to unclog the line and stop the sanitary sewer overflow before 6 p.m.
Austin Water says their customers can help prevent overflows like this one by not putting grease, rags, wipes or anything else that can clog sinks or toilets.
Kevin Koeller, the division manager for Collections Systems Engineering at Austin Water, explained that in this case, wastewater left the city’s collection system due to the clog, traveled on the ground, and entered into the creek. Koeller said that incidents like this happen throughout the course of the year in areas around Austin.
“No system is foolproof,” Koeller said. “We ask customers to do their best to not dispose of wipes in the toilet.”
With Thanksgiving coming up, he also reminds Austinites to not dump the grease from their cooking down the drain as that can clog up the line as well.
When it comes to the toilet, Koeller says the only things that should be disposed of there are toilet paper and human waste.
Austin Water has reported the spill to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Texas Parks and Wildlife and they are coordinating with the Austin Watershed Protection Department. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says it is investigating this spill, the state agency investigates all sanitary sewer overflows.
“We work closely with Watershed [Protection Department] and the TCEQ, so we’re doing cleanup and we don’t’ anticipate any long term impacts tot he creek,” Koeller said.
Jennifer Ramos, who serves on the Bull Creek Foundation, noticed something different at Bull Creek Sunday when she was leading a group of Girl Scouts on a hike.
She said the creek was almost perfect to walk along in the beautiful fall weather, “except for the smell.”
Ramos explained that crews helping to pump out water Sunday notified parents of the Girl Scouts not to go in the water.
“It was also kind of disappointing because a lot of these girls and their parents, this is their introduction to the creek and what they saw was a really dry creek and it smelled bad,” she said.
Ramos said that City of Austin crews over the weekend didn’t explain the specifics to her of how the clog happened, but she got up to speed by following local news coverage.
She hopes to see the City of Austin ramp up its education efforts about the negative impacts of flushing away the wrong types of items. Ramos fears that local waterways and endangered/ vulnerable species in the area could be threatened by further spills.
“We come out there to the creek all the time,” she said of the Bull Creek Foundation. “We try to make sure it’s clean, we try to make sure it’s free from littler.”
“But what’s frustrating, probably the most frustrating to me is that people don’t realize that where they put their trash matters,” Ramos continued. “You know, when you look at the creek and it’s so pristine, and you enjoy a beautiful day hiking or swimming in the swimming holes, you don’t think about the fact that maybe someone flushed something down their toilet or put something in their disposal that they shouldn’t have and it could lead to really dangerous problems that make their way down to the creek.”