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Council wants to prevent wastewater ‘pump and haul’ subdivisions

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The City Council will consider a resolution Thursday to put an end to almost all future “pump and haul” agreements in new subdivisions in the city. Council Members Sheryl Cole and Lee Leffingwell are sponsoring the measure that would require new subdivisions to be hooked up to wastewater lines before they city will approve them. 


A “pump and haul” system involves a subdivision that is not hooked up to the city wastewater system, so untreated wastewater flows to a collection point, is pumped from the sewer system into a tanker truck and hauled to a wastewater plant. The system is not only expensive, but carries an increased danger of sewage spills.


“This is not happening very often but with the amount of increased growth there have been some additional requests for pump and haul agreements,” said Austin Water Utility Assistant Director Darryl Slusher. “What I think the Council is trying to do is say we want to have the wastewater system in place before we extend infrastructure. The utility management is in agreement with this resolution.”


Recent new requests from developers for pump and haul arrangements were a major impetus for the proposed resolution. The proposal does allow pump and haul operations on an emergency basis, but will block almost all future agreements with developers.


An ongoing problem with the Zachary Scott subdivision in Southeast Austin was a case in point, where a pump and haul operation has been in place for over a year as the city designed, then redesigned, and redesigned again the sewage line to the development.


The problems cost the city millions of dollars in cost overruns, but also presented a traffic problem with large trucks and a potentially huge environmental problem, as the Zachary Scott sewer system had to be pumped out up to four times a day.


Cole said it is a situation that the Council wants to avoid in the future. “(Zach Scott) was paid for by the developer but the city kept redesigning it,” she said. “It was not the developer’s fault but this is a clear policy directive from the Council saying, ‘We will not be entering into any more of these agreements with developers, so don’t come to the table with this as part of your plan to get houses built faster.’”


Slusher said the Zach Scott situation was the kind of emergency situation the Council envisions in the proposed resolution There were delays in getting it approved and then there were delays in extending the wastewater lines, and it was causing the developers a lot of financial difficulty,” he said. So the city agreed to a pump and haul agreement so they could go ahead and move some people into houses. Actually, this resolution allows for emergency situations for service but tries to keep those to the absolute minimum.


Leffingwell said the potential for environmental problems are very real. He said the city has allowed pump and haul operations on a very selective basis in the past, only for limited periods of time based on circumstances beyond the control of operators, and only under tightly controlled operating procedures


“Prolonged pump and haul operations incur certain risks, both from environmental and safety perspectives, including groundwater pollution and safety hazards from the trucks,” he said. “But I believe that, going forward, the city should establish policies to require wastewater infrastructure to be in place prior to granting occupancy permits so developers will be on notice that such operations will be permitted in the future only under emergency circumstances.”

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