A Crisis of Imagination
Increased planning and funding has been focused on water infrastructure in our region and nationally. Bayou City Waterkeeper’s recent work advocating for wastewater infrastructure and clean water in the cities of Baytown and Houston, climate-resilient alternatives to the Coastal Barrier, wetland protections in our region, and water infrastructure funding in our state illustrate our unique approach to prioritize communities and ecosystems.
The complexity of people, ecology, and industry that make up our region could be an opportunity to solve a crisis of imagination around wastewater, flood, and stormwater infrastructure. In Houston, we see rapid wetland loss spurred by development and population growth; aging sewage infrastructure contributing to overflows into water bodies and private homes; weatherization needed in homes to protect community members from extreme weather and storms; open drainage ditches that carry wastewater flows and stormwater; and the need for forward-thinking, climate resilient flood-mitigation projects.
Now is the opportunity to see the previous limits of our imagination in how we build, advocate, and fund water infrastructure.
Solutions around water infrastructure must center natural infrastructure — our bayous, rivers, wetlands, floodplains, and prairies provide a suite of critical services like clean water and flood protection. We must also center the sovereignty of our communities. Communities most impacted by environmental challenges must speak for themselves, allowing for equitable implementation of water infrastructure.
Now, more than ever, there should be space for imagination in water infrastructure. Thank you for your support, and remember that we are all keepers of the water.
For Our Waters & Community,
Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud
Will we see you and yours at Tributary?
Tributary is a community event connecting to and honoring our waterways and communities we advocate for. Learn about our waterways and water justice in our region. The event will take place at Armand Bayou Nature Center where attendees can explore the Center’s wetlands, bayou, and prairie habitats through guided hikes, kayaking, and pontoon tours. We will also learn of the histories of the Akokisa people who previously inhabited this watershed. Three community leaders working around water and water justice will be honored and will present virtual lectures before the event — Doris Brown, Danielle Goshen, and Yudith Nieto.
From Our Legal Arm
We started off the year by sending the city of Baytown a notice of intent to sue for hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act associated with its ailing sanitary sewer system. Last month, prompted by this notice, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an enforcement lawsuit against the city of Baytown in the Southern District of Texas, located in Houston. The federal lawsuit alleges that more than 800 sewage releases were caused by the city of Baytown's failure to properly operate and maintain their wastewater collection and treatment system. We have asked the federal judge to allow us to formally intervene.
Our analysis that kicked off this legal action identified nearly 40 million gallons of sewage leaving Baytown’s system without treatment since 2015 -- even more produced by the city of Houston over a similar timeframe, whose problems were the subject of a $2 billion settlement spurred by our legal efforts last year. The highest-volume of these overflows have had a disproportionate impact on Baytown's Hispanic/Latinx communities. The EPA's enforcement lawsuit is a critical first step toward addressing well-known sewage pollution in Baytown communities and the waters flowing into Galveston Bay. Over the course of this process, our legal arm will work to give communities a real voice in shaping a just solution. Read more.
From Our Science Arm
Through our data-to-action monitoring approach, in collaboration with Rice University’s Spatial Studies Lab and Diluvial Houston, we’ve translated the city of Houston’s sanitary sewer data into an interactive map. This map looks at the data received so far from the city through its consent decree-mandated reports, alongside U.S. Census Bureau data reflecting income and race or ethnicity. The purpose of this visualization is to reveal ongoing injustices associated with sewer overflows across the city, both from the city-owned system and on private property.
Through our tool, residents of the city of Houston can filter sewer information according to their zip code and determine overflows in their community. The consent decree represents an important first step to giving Houston residents a real solution to the sewage problems we see and smell after every major rain. Our mapping shows that so far, it falls short in one key respect: it shortchanges our low-income neighbors who regularly deal with sewage backing up into their homes, pooling in the yards where their children play, and dirtying their backyard bayous and creeks. In addition, it reveals that sewer lateral problems are concentrated in Hispanic/Latinx and Black communities. Looking ahead we aim to share this tool with the residents most affected by sewer injustices in Houston as we advocate for more transparency and continue to work toward sewer justice across the watershed.
New Data Mapping Tool: Track Sewage Overflows for Houston Communities
Bayou City Waterkeeper launches a new interactive map for our community to track sewage pollution in the city of Houston. This map looks at the data received so far from the city through its consent decree-mandated reports, alongside the U.S. Census Bureau data reflecting income and race or ethnicity. To learn how to interact with our new tool to see how sewage pollution may affect your family and community, read more here.
Listen to Legal Director Kristen Schlemmer's interview about Baytown’s sewage problem on Houston Matters (23:45 mark).
The Ike Dike Misses the Mark
Learn more at this virtual community meeting featuring advocates who have been working on the ground to push for a better solution: John Beard (Port Arthur Community Action Network); Danielle Goshen (National Wildlife Federation); Chase Porter (Lone Star Legal Aid); Joanie Steinhaus (Turtle Island Restoration Network); Moderator: Kristen Schlemmer (Bayou City Waterkeeper). Read Ike Dike: Surging Ahead in Cite Digital by Legal Director Kristen Schlemmer the famed Ike Dike.
Prioritizing Disadvantaged Communities in Water Infrastructure Funds
Executive Director Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud, along with other Texas non-profit water organizations, shared testimony on recommendations for the $2.9 billion Texas is set to receive for water infrastructure through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Announcing New Members to our Board of Directors
Bayou City Waterkeeper welcomes new members to our Board of Directors — Hugo Colón, Tanweer Kaleemullah, Jolea Payne, and Ken Teague. We are excited to bring new perspectives to our board in urban planning, education, law, public health, environmental justice, wetland ecosystems, fundraising, and nonprofit management. Read more about our new board members