Elected officials tour Liberty Hill’s wastewater treatment plant

By SHELLY WILKISON

Representatives of the Brazos River Authority escorted members of the Liberty Hill City Council on a tour of the City’s newly-acquired wastewater treatment plant Tuesday. Jay Middleton, wastewater and water superintendent for the BRA (left), walked elected officials over the sludge being treated at the facility. Second from left are Mayor Jamie Williamson, Council members Vicki Brewer and Wendell McLeod, and Attorney Cathy Riedel of the Bojorquez law firm, which represents the City of Liberty Hill.
(Photo by Shelly Wilkison)

Members of the Liberty Hill City Council learned a bit about wastewater treatment during a tour of the City’s newly acquired  treatment plant on Tuesday.

In May, the City closed on a $3.3 million purchase of the Liberty Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant from the Lower Colorado River Authority. The plant, which is located off U.S. Highway 183 near the South San Gabriel River in Leander, was purchased with revenue bonds approved by the Council in April.

The plant became operational in September 2006 and was built by LCRA for $9 million. It was sold to the City this year as part of LCRA’s efforts to divest itself of treatment facilities across Central Texas.

Representatives of the Brazos River Authority, which operates the facility, escorted Mayor Jamie Williamson and Council members Vicki Brewer and Wendell McLeod on a first-time tour of the eight-acre plant. Accompanying the Council was Cathy Riedel, an attorney with the Bojorquez law firm, which represents the City, and a reporter from The Independent.

Council members Mike Crane, Byron Tippie and Sammy Pruett did not participate.

“This is a big plant and has one of the most stringent permits in Texas,” said David Collinsworth, business development manager for the Central Basin Region of the BRA. “There are more costs to the user (the City of Liberty Hill), but also more environmental protection.”

Permitted to treat up to 1.2 million gallons of sewage per day, the facility is operating at levels significantly lower than capacity.

Jay Middleton, wastewater and water superintendent for BRA’s Central and Lower Basins, said the facility is currently teating an average 110,000 to 130,000 gallons per day.

“This was designed to treat a lot more (wastewater) than we’re treating now,” he said.

The facility treats wastewater from inside the city limits along with area municipal utility districts (MUDs). The plant utilizes a biological process to treat wastes before pumping the treated water into the South San Gabriel River.

“This is a live process. We feed the bacteria with air and they consume the organics,” Middleton explained. “This is a delicate process here.”

Once the wastewater is cleaned, it is pumped into the river. Middleton said at least one property owner near the outfall has complained about algae growing in that location. He said the problem will continue to exist as long as there is a shallow riverbed, various nutrients in the treated water and slow moving river flow. He said heavy rainfall offers some relief.

In July the BRA Board of Directors authorized agency management to enter negotiations with the City of Liberty Hill to continue operations of the facility. At press time Wednesday, the City had not responded to questions from The Independent regarding the status of those negotiations.

BRA officials said Tuesday that plant operations require about 2300 personnel hours annually. The work is split among seven employees who also operate wastewater plants in Georgetown.

According to its website, BRA operates wastewater systems for the cities of Temple, Belton, Hutto, Chute/Richwood, Sugar Land, Round Rock, Cedar Park, Austin and Liberty Hill, as well as Lee County Fresh Water District No. 1.