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Why Austinites Can Expect More Sewage Runoff in Their Future

Pipes can break for a lot of reasons, several of which are causing them to break, and allow sewage to run off, in Austin.

Flooding last week caused untreated wastewater to end up in creeks around Austin.  In fact, wastewater seems to end up overflowing almost anytime the region experiences a major storm. 

It happened during the floods last spring. Then it happened during storms a week before Halloween, and then again last Friday. In each storm, parts of the city wastewater infrastructure were overwhelmed, causing untreated sewage to flow into waterways.

Kevin Koeller says there’s no one reason this happens.

Sometimes debris gets into the line. Sometimes components of the system lose power in a storm, and sewage leaks out — especially from pipes that have been around a while.

“Sometimes because of the age of the pipe. It’s just reached the end of its useful life, and it fails,” Koeller says.

And sometimes, like last week, the surge of floodwater enters the system and threatens to damage treatment plants. In those cases the city diverts wastewater into creeks. Koeller says the utility works hard to reduce the risk of sewage runoff, doing things like running cameras through water pipes to check on wear and tear. But it’s a challenge.

“Austin’s a growing city, and people are moving here, and we’re facing the same challenges that every other city is. We have an aging infrastructure and a growing city.”

Add floods into the mix and you can probably expect more sewage spills in Austin’s future.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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