A West Waco lift station that leaked 1.8 million gallons of raw sewage into Lake Waco after it was submerged by high lake levels is back online for now.
But this isn’t the first time the station off Greenleaf Drive has been swamped, and it likely won’t be the last.
The station, which pumps uphill the wastewater collected from lake-area neighborhoods, floods whenever Lake Waco’s levels exceed 473 feet above sea level. It has happened before at least twice, in 1991 and 2007. This time, heavy rains on Memorial Day weekend left the lift station underwater until June 11.
During that period of nearly two weeks, city officials removed the pumps to protect them. They allowed the sewage to flow into the lake until levels receded enough for them to install a temporary system to pump the sewage while the lift station dries out.
City officials said they had no other option.
“It’s not the best situation,” Assistant City Manager Wiley Stem said. “It’s not what we want.”
But he said this was an extraordinary weather situation, and the amount of sewage was small compared to the amount of floodwater flowing through the lake and into the Bosque River downstream.
At the normal level of 462 feet, the lake has 84 billion gallons, he said. The amount of sewage released would be 0.0002 percent of the lake’s total. At the peak of the lake flooding on June 1, the lake level rose to 479 feet, or 17 feet over the normal level.
“We don’t like a situation like this, but it’s relatively inconsequential,” Stem said. “In the meantime, we don’t want people swimming around there.”
The city of Waco quickly notified the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of the spill, and a TCEQ spokeswoman said the city will not face any fines or penalties for the spill.
Stem said the city’s 10-year master plan for sewer improvements includes $1.2 million to move the Greenleaf lift station and two others around Lake Waco to higher ground, but no exact timeline has been established. He said some other improvements are more urgent, including the replacement of the aging La Salle Avenue lift station. That station carries 50 million gallons a day, compared with 171,000 gallons at the Greenleaf station.
Stem said the city had to pay to move infrastructure and parks around the lake under its agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 to raise the lake’s normal level by seven feet. But the lift stations were not part of that agreement.
Stem said he’s hopeful that the Corps’ ongoing releases from Lake Waco will bring the lake levels down to normal quickly so any further rain won’t put the lift station at risk.
After heavy rains from Tropical Storm Bill, the lake level rose about a foot in the middle of the week to a level of 469 on Thursday, still 4 feet below the level that would swamp the Greenleaf station.