Since more than eighteen inches of rain fell on the Port O’Connor region in a four-day period between September 12 and 16, 2018, the Port O’Connor Improvement District (the District) has logged 60 work orders from households concerning wastewater backups. The volumes of freshwater that entered the District’s waste water system during that period effectively flooded the system, so that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) determined that operational problems the District suffered during that four-day period were beyond the District’s control.
The condition where excessive and uncontrolled amounts of freshwater overwhelms a wastewater treatments system is called “Inflow and Infiltration,” or “I&I.” A wastewater treatment facility relies on biological organisms such as specific types of bacteria to breakdown organic waste. The infiltration and inflow of excessive amounts of freshwater change the living conditions for those bacteria for the worse, so they are less effective. The introduction of large volumes of water will also cause a drop in the vacuum pressure of the wastewater contained in the pipes. Such vacuum pressure is necessary to ensure that wastewater moves away from service connections and towards the District’s sewage treatment facility. The root cause of the sewage backups District customers have recently experienced in their homes due to those heavy rains, and during other periods of heavy loads to the wastewater system this summer, is those customers’ failure to comply with the District’s requirement to install and maintain in working order a device known as a backflow prevention device. Had those homes installed and kept in working order backflow prevention devices, it would be impossible for wastewater to back up in their homes at any time.
The District’s wastewater system is comprised of underground pipes, buffer tanks, and vacuum stations that create a negative pressure environment in the system that draws wastewater from service connections, through piping and associated equipment, and into the District’s wastewater treatment facility. A backflow prevention device ensures that wastewater does not flow in a reverse direction, back towards the source of the wastewater, such as a commode, which can occur if there is a drop in the vacuum pressure that normally draws wastewater away from a service connection. The extreme loading eighteen-inches of rainfall in a four-day period placed on the District’s system caused such a drop in vacuum pressure.
The only way wastewater could flow in a reverse direction and back into a home is if there is a drop in vacuum pressure and if the resident had not installed a backflow prevention device or had installed one but had either not properly maintained it or had disabled it.
It is the responsibility of the owner of the premises to which the District provides wastewater and water services to install, maintain in working order, and have a licensed professional certify on an annual basis that the backflow prevention device is in full working order. In fact, the District’s Code of Rules and Regulations require the District to discontinue service to any premises if a required and approved backflow prevention assembly has been removed, been bypassed, or has never been installed.
The District takes seriously its obligations to follow its own rules, just as it takes seriously the responsibilities it owes its customers to provide safe drinking water and effective wastewater treatment services. Because the District has recently determined that a significant number of its customers are in violation of its backflow prevention device requirements based on the 60 work orders it has received since September 12, the District must apply its limited resources and comply with the requirements of its own rules and aggressively address a problem whose scope and severity it had not previously appreciated.
Therefore, the District has concluded that unless a customer can somehow demonstrate otherwise, any home into which wastewater has backed up is presumed to be in violation of District rules and requirements.
Thus, because the District will soon begin the process of discontinuing service to properties that are not in compliance with the backflow prevention device requirements, it hopes that noncompliant customers will voluntarily come into compliance before their service is discontinued. Furthermore, in the cases of customers whose service the District does discontinue, the District will work with such customer to help them to come into compliance quickly, and to remain in compliance.
POCID Board President