Liberty Hill lays out new steps taken to keep San Gabriel River sewage-free

Williamson County

LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) — On Thursday, the City of Liberty Hill responded to KXAN’s questions about two recent violations from the state’s environmental agency where it was cited for dumping chlorine and human waste into the San Gabriel River.

The Liberty Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant is permitted to dump treated wastewater into the South Fork of the San Gabriel River, and does so at an outflow point along the river just east of U.S. 183 near South Gabriel Drive.

It can legally dump up to 4 million gallons a day, but city officials say it averages between 750,000 to 770,000 gallons per day. 

It’s the same spot where an investigator with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found human waste piled 18 inches deep on the river bed in March — waste that’s supposed to be removed before leaving the treatment plant. 

Two months before, locals filed multiple complaints with TCEQ about thick algae and foam floating on the surface of the water, and said the river had a strong bleach smell.

Thursday, Mayor Rick Hall set up an off-camera meeting with KXAN Investigator Erin Cargile at City Hall along with the Public Works Director Wayne Bonnet, City Administrator Greg Boatright and attorney Andy Barrett, where they admitted mistakes were made.

“We like to not make the same mistake twice,” said Barrett.

This month’s violation marks the third time the city has been cited for dumping untreated wastewater into the river over the last ten years. The first two times — in 2013 and 2018 — TCEQ fined the city a total of $25,000. 

Following the meeting at City Hall, the city leaders took KXAN’s crew to the wastewater treatment plant to explain new systems they’ve put in place to prevent the violations from happening again.

Public Works Director Wayne Bonnet said they’ve made the following changes since April:

  • De-chlorination tablets have been added to the final disinfection stage before the wastewater reaches the river, to ensure there’s no chlorine going in
  • Daily checks at the outflow point to visually look for problems
  • Weekly maintenance checks at the outflow to keep it clean and take water samples

But those who live along the river tell KXAN there is no flow of communication from the city when issues pop up that could compromise the integrity of the river.

“I can’t speak on that for anybody else, but from my standpoint I’m an open book,” said Hall. “I can provide my email contact to you, you can give it to whoever you want to.”

You can contact Mayor Hall here: rhall@libertyhilltx.gov or at City Hall at (512) 778-5449 ext. 103.

Hall said he will provide monthly reports via email, and address concerns anyone might have.

The public works director said he is also open to giving the public tours of the Liberty Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant, and has done so in the past.

Both say they are committed to being good stewards of the San Gabriel River.

“It’s extremely important, I mean not only am I the mayor for the city — I also live here, my kids went to school here and I’ve got a lot of friends around the area that live here and enjoy the San Gabriel River. So I want to do everything we can to make sure that the effluent that we’re putting into it is as clean as possible.”

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