Mass-quarantine helped lead to under-treated sewage overflow: environmentalists

Video shows what appears to be an endless stream of undertreated sewage pouring into the Bayou Vista canals near Galveston. It raised a lot of alarm for residents who swim and fish there.

Bayou Vista residents say the water had a horrible odor and appearance for months. Now they’re demanding more transparency after not getting any heads-up from local officials about the pollution that was occurring.

“If you’ve ever walked past a Porta Potty at Reliant, it’s the smell of a portacan,” said Robert Young, a Bayou Vista homeowner.

Residents Of Bayou Vista captured photos and videos throughout April and May of apparent under-treated sewage pouring out into the canal in front of waterfront homes.

“Everything but toilet paper basically,” said David Macaluso, a Bayou Vista resident. ”You see large solids come out that are so heavy they sink. Sometimes you see solids come out that don’t sink.”

The pipe drains from the Galveston County Municipal Utilities District 12 Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Independent testing of the water samples showed high levels of E. coli and bacteria in the water.

“There were people calling the operators in March and April, saying what’s going on, and they were giving us excuses and telling us at no time were they in violation—the water’s fine,” said Macaluso.

Eventually, the TCEQ conducted its own investigation, and on May 27 sent a ”notice of violation” to the municipal utilities district, giving them 60 days to fix the pollution problem.

Mass quarantine due to COVID-19 likely played a role in overstressing wastewater treatment systems, said Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

“The system is getting too much volume,” said Stokes. ”It’s not really designed to have everybody at home full time. People are supposed to go off and go to work and use the toilets there.”

Fast forward to June 12, and things have improved. Leadership at the MUD 12 has changed, and the water is flowing clearer.

“That was our goal,” said Young. “We want it to run clear. We want them to be in compliance with the law.... It was reported clear starting yesterday morning.”

“The big issue at this point is when we brought it to their attention, to the state’s attention and to the county’s attention, nobody did anything to tell people you’ve got raw sewage in your water,” said Macaluso.

MUD 12 officials declined to do an interview about this, but they sent me a statement to FOX 26 that says in part: “MUD 12 has announced its intentions to enter into a contract with the Galveston County Health District (GCHD) to monitor water conditions in Bayou Vista canals. When the City becomes aware of any cautionary advisories issued by MUD 12, TCEQ, or GCHD about water quality in our canals, the City will help disseminate that information on the City Website and elsewhere when possible.“