ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The City of Round Rock is working to locate what it believes is a pipeline break that’s causing an increase of water flowing into the Brushy Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant East.

The surge of water is causing a messy and stinky situation downstream of Brushy Creek, because the treatment process is unable to keep up and causes wastewater to discharge into the creek.

There are four cities that contribute to the wastewater treatment plant: Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander and Austin. The regional wastewater plant is rated for 20 million gallons a day. Michael Thane, the city’s utilities department director, said over the last several months the plant has been “receiving extreme flows upwards of 30 million gallons a day during the peak times.”

He said that influx is not just from sewage or development and growth. Thane and his crew believe “there’s a big pipe break in the pipe that goes along the creek that’s causing inflow and infiltration.”

A look at the TSS or “total suspended solids” in Brushy Creek. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)
A look at the TSS or “total suspended solids” in Brushy Creek. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

“That’s kind of what you see, you know, the neighbors are seeing downstream, they’re seeing the creek not look as clear they’re normally used to,” he said.

City officials are warning people to stay out of the water as there are concerns about high levels of E. coli and organic solids called TSS or “total suspended solids” that include things like silt, decaying plant matter and sewage. That is creating floating particles that are causing the creek to look cloudy.

Thursday, Round Rock City Council will receive an update from the city’s utilities department on the latest effort to solve the problem.

“The city has never backed down from saying that there’s a problem. We’re aware there’s an issue. We’re doing everything we can to figure out a solution, so that we can correct the problem,” Thane said.

City crews have been using special cameras and equipment to check the lines. This week, the city brought in a company that uses special cameras to check larger pipes.

Dan Flaherty, Brushy Creek resident, lives about 50 feet from the creek bed.
Dan Flaherty, Brushy Creek resident, lives about 50 feet from the creek bed.

‘It really irritates me.’

“I just love that it still feels like its country when it’s not,” said Dan Flaherty, Brushy Creek resident.

Dan Flaherty’s house sits about 50 feet from a portion of Brush Creek where the water is now contaminated. The song of the birds and the country-like terrain are what have kept him living there for so many years.

“I used to fish in it. I haven’t in many years. With the growth and everything, it’s hard to control what goes into that creek. It really irritates me,” said Flaherty.

What’s the limit?

Thane said things elevated last Thursday. The maximum daily permit as set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a composite sample of TSS is 40 milligrams per liter over the course of 24 hours and 399 most probable units for E. coli. Last Thursday, officials decided to take a grab sample, and results showed solids were at 665 milligrams per liter for TSS, and E. coli was in the several thousands of units. 

“Last Thursday, it was the worst we’ve seen it. And we’ve made some plant adjustments internally where we’re trying to drop the peak down, and we’re trying to push water differently,” Thane said. “So that was probably the worst it’s looked last Thursday with those high numbers. They have improved, but they’re still above what we’re permitted.”

On Friday, March 4, the taken TSS composite sample was well under the daily permit at 28.5 mg/L.

The City of Round Rock put up a sign asking neighbors to stay out of the water at a low water crossing at County Road 123 in Round Rock. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

The good news is the wastewater issue does not affect the area’s drinking water.

Working with the state

In an email, officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who are working with the city on this issue, said there is an open investigation and will share their results and findings once the investigation is complete.

They added their sample results from Thursday, March 3, did show E. coli “levels high enough” they suggested the city put up signage in accessible Brushy Creek areas. They took additional samples Friday, March 4 and are waiting on the results.

The TCEQ also mentioned the wastewater treatment plant in question was “referred for formal enforcement on March 1, 2022. The Notice of Enforcement alleges violations and additional issues regarding effluent parameters and operations and maintenance issues.”

City officials are asking people to stay out of the creek until further notice. Thursday’s Round Rock City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m.

Past issues

This isn’t the first time sewage has spilled into Brushy Creek. In 2019, thousands of fish were wiped from the ecosystem.

The case of the massive fish kill then was due to a raw sewage overflow from the nearby treatment plant.

At the time, KXAN obtained documents, which showed the Brushy Creek Wastewater Treatment East Plant has had a history of problems. Since 2013, TCEQ has written 18 violations to the facility that serves Austin, Cedar Park and Round Rock.

Round Rock took over the facility in 2018.

A growing plant for a growing area

Construction on the expansion of the Brushy Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant East is currently underway. The expansion will address growth in the area and allow for a capacity of up to 30 million gallons a day.

The expansion will be completed in the summer of 2023.