A Note from Jordan Macha
Executive Director & Waterkeeper

Big news for Bayou City Waterkeeper and local waterways!  On July 24th, nearly a year to the day since we served our notice of intent to sue, the City of Houston voted to adopt a $2 billion consent decree with the EPA and State of Texas. This begins a 15-year process of addressing wastewater pollution and failing infrastructure across the entire city.  

While there are still questions to be answered, this is an important victory for clean water. And we couldn’t have done it without all of you. 

For decades, as a result of the failure to maintain its aging infrastructure, Houston allowed raw or partially treated sewage to be discharged from its wastewater treatment and collection systems into our public waterways throughout the Houston area.  This has caused significant problems for the health of all our waterways, and created long-standing inequities in our most vulnerable communities. After years of delays and no clear plan by the City of Houston to address these well-known problems, we filed a citizen suit in September 2018 to improve water quality for all residents across Houston and throughout the region.

When the consent decree was first announced at a press conference on July 9th, it was clear that Mayor Turner and City Attorney Lewis had no intention of releasing the details to the public. Joined by supporters like you, and allied organizations across Houston, we called for transparency and the opportunity for public engagement before City Council voted to adopt the consent decree. 

At the July hearings before City Council, we repeatedly called on Mayor Turner and City Council to give the public a chance to review and understand the consent decree before holding a vote. Joining Bayou City Waterkeeper’s call for public participation at the July 16th public session were representatives from Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER), Environment Texas, and Public Citizen. Over 50 community advocates and Houston residents submitted letters to Council Members and Mayor Turner, urging for transparency and public participation in the consent decree process. 

These efforts paid off. In the face of this significant public pressure, Mayor Turner agreed to release the previously secret consent decree and gave the public a week to review the 150-page document prior to City Council’s approval vote.   

With the week provided, Bayou City Waterkeeper identified a glaring omission in the consent decree: no provisions for community engagement over the consent decree’s 15-year life. To facilitate greater public participation and resolve this omission by the time of the City Council’s scheduled vote, we outlined a Community Engagement Plan to the Mayor and City Council. 

On Wednesday, July 24th, in a near unanimous vote – with Council Member Travis voting no– the City voted to approve the $2 billion consent decree. Although the City did not adopt the Community Engagement Plan, city representatives’ statements during and after the vote were encouraging. In a press conference, Mayor Turner and Public Works Director Carol Haddock outlined their initial plans for public engagement, including a commitment to share information and reports related to the consent decree on the Public Works website. Council Members called for presentations from Public Works on the details of the consent decree, citing Public Works’ annual public meeting on Capital Improvement Projects as precedent.

We’re celebrating this victory for clean water, but our work isn't done. The public still has a chance to shape the consent decree through the EPA’s notice-and-comment period. Moving forward, we will continue to push Houston to commit to robust public engagement and “future-proof” its critical wastewater infrastructure. The consent decree is a good first step to fix the problems we have - but to truly become a resilient and forward-leading, world-class city, Houston must and can do more to ensure our residents have clean and safe waterways for generations to come.

Keep Mercury Out of Berry Creek!

Late last year Bayou City Waterkeeper opposed the TCEQ's decision to allow the City of South Houston to amend its wastewater permit. The city sought to remove all safeguards on mercury discharges passing through its wastewater treatment facility - despite having past permit violations relating to its mercury discharge. The change reportedly will save South Houston $12,000 each year, and potentially allow mercury to pass undetected from the facility into Berry Bayou and on to Galveston Bay.

Although TCEQ acknowledged our comments, no changes to the draft permit were made. We have now requested a contested case hearing to urge the TCEQ to reject the permit amendment and require continued testing and monitoring for mercury.

Join us in urging the City of South Houston to require continued testing and monitoring for mercury. Sign the petition here.

TxDOT's I-45 Boondoogle

On July 26th, Bayou City Waterkeeper urged the H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council to postpone authorization of $100 million in funding for the I-45 expansion project.

Community advocates, non-profit organizations, and elected officials and representatives, urged the Transportation Policy Council to delay its vote until 2020 and effectively compel the Texas Department of Transportation to address a range of environmental, equity, public health, flooding, and land use issues before moving forward.

Despite overwhelming opposition, the Council approved the expenditure - with only Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo voting no.

Save the Date for Folks 'N Oysters

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Get your oyster fork ready for delicious oysters - best enjoyed with great company! We hope that you can join us for this annual gathering of friends and family - celebrating all that we've achieved over the last year.

See you in November!

Thanks to everyone who participated in our second annual Back the Bayous at Armand Bayou Nature Center!
We had a blast paddling around Armand Bayou, exploring the trails, and learning what makes these natural spaces special - and vital - for our watershed.
If you want to check out additional photos from the day, be sure to follow us on social media! We're posting fun photos from around the watershed and sharing interesting news bites relevant to the health of our waters and our communities.

713.714.8442 | info@bayoucitywaterkeeper.org