TRLA Clients Win Relocation of Wastewater Treatment Plant

For decades residents of the Rio Grande Valley town of Alamo have lived alongside a wastewater treatment that generates heavy odors foul enough to nauseate people. The treatment plant consists of open lagoons and ponds filled with wastewater in various stages of decomposition. The stench is so severe that when EPA officials came to Alamo in 2016 to see the plant, “some of the tour were retching,” according to a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that was written on behalf of the community group Aire Limpio. The grassroots organization, which is represented by TRLA, formed with the explicit purpose of forcing officials to do something about the treatment facility. In the past two years, Aire Limpio and TRLA have exerted pressured and negotiated, most forcefully through a demand to the TCEQ for a contested case hearing on the plant. The hearing, which was granted, could have blocked a five-year TCEQ permit to operate the plant, and in exchange for withdrawal of the demand for it, the city agreed to build a new plant in 2019, take steps to solve problems with the old plant, and inform and talk regularly with residents along the way. The outline below, provided by Erin Gaines, one of the TRLA attorneys who represented Aire Limpio, reviews the commitments the city has made to residents.

Meet Timeline for Construction of New Wastewater Treatment Plant

The City has received government funding to build a new mechanical wastewater treatment plant that will be located at least a half mile farther from residential areas. The City agreed to:

1.       Begin construction of the new plant as soon as possible but by November 2019 at the latest (after it receives all the necessary permits and approvals to build the new plant), and complete it within three years or by June 2021.

           a. If any of these deadlines need to be extended due to delays outside of the City’s control, the City will inform TRLA and the community as to the reasons and provide an updated timeline

2.      The City agreed to have TCEQ reduce the renewal date for the water permit for its existing lagoon wastewater treatment system to four years from five years, which means that if the new plant is not completed within four years, the City will have to reapply for a new permit and the public will have a chance to comment on it. This is another incentive for the City to complete construction as quickly as possible.


Hold Public Workshops

The City will hold public community workshops in English and Spanish at least twice per year until the new plant is completed to inform the community about its progress, and answer questions and receive feedback on the new plant and on any issues with the old lagoon system.

1.       Notice of the workshops will be provided through the City’s public notice for its City Commission meetings and will be mailed to Aire Limpio members at least a week in advance.

2.      The first public workshop will be in September 2018.

AdDress Odors generated by Lagoons

The City has set up a 24-hour hotline — (956) 787-2232 — for complaints (in English or Spanish) about odors from the lagoons.

1.      Odors in the lagoons are often caused because there is not enough dissolved oxygen owing to inadequate aeration. When someone calls the complaint line, the City will take samples for dissolved oxygen (DO) at the three primary ponds within three hours during business hours or the next morning if the complaint is made outside of business hours. If no one answers the hotline, please leave a message.

           a.      If any samples taken following a complaint are below 2.0 mg/L for dissolved oxygen, the City will take DO samples on a daily basis for 45 days;

           b.      If the daily average of samples for any pond is under 2.0 mg/L for 15 days or more, the City will install a new aerator in that pond within four months (because of time needed to purchase new equipment);

           c.      All sampling results will be emailed to TRLA, and can be shared with the community.

2.       The City complaint hotline line exists in addition to TCEQ’s complaint hotline/online form. (The TCEQ hotline is (888) 777-3186.) Community members with complaints about bad odors from the lagoons can call both the City and TCEQ hotlines.

             a.    In response to complaints about odors, TCEQ will usually send an investigator to determine if there are nuisance odors from the facility, but it may not be the same day as the complaint is made and TCEQ will not conduct DO testing in lagoons. TCEQ will record whether there are odors and their severity.

Meet with County and City to discuss infrastructure improvements:

4.       The City will set up a meeting with representatives from Hidalgo County Precinct 2, TRLA, and Aire Limpio members to discuss the need for certain improvements in the colonias near the City, such as sidewalks, streetlights, and trash pickup. In particular, the City will let the County know it is willing to construct a sidewalk along Rancho Blanco Road within the City limits if the County agrees to continue the sidewalk past the City limits.

nancy nusser