Council calls for wastewater plant assessment


Managing Editor

The Liberty Hill City Council decided Monday to take steps on its own to get a deeper evaluation of operations at the wastewater treatment plant.

The highly-scrutinized plant, and the City’s operation of it, have been the center of contention in recent years with downstream residents claiming the plant’s effluent is damaging the South San Gabriel River, claiming it is the cause of heavy algae blooms congesting the low-flow river.

The decision Monday was to hire consultant A. J. Olson to conduct an operational assessment of the plant.

“Council was wanting to get a fresh set of eyes on the operations side of the treatment plant, so that was the motion that came out of executive session to get an assessment done by this professional to engage with our operators to get an idea what the challenges are, evaluate the performance of the hardware at the wastewater treatment plant and also get recommendations from him on adjustments that need to be made,” said City Administrator Lacie Hale.

The plant is also the subject of a threatened lawsuit representing downstream residents. If filed, the suit would be brought in federal court by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), representing resident Stephanie Morris who owns property along the South San Gabriel River.

The City Council first discussed the issue at its Sept. 14 meeting during closed session. The 60-day notice is a requirement when filing a Clean Water Act suit. The 60 days have passed, and attorney Amy Johnson said recently that discussions are ongoing with the City, though neither side could elaborate at this time.

Hale said she preferred not to get into the details of the possible lawsuit because it is a pending matter, but said the decision to hire the consultant was not a direct result of the potential lawsuit.

“Either way, if it’s for the law suit or if it’s for the city it’s a benefit,” she said. “It wasn’t a direct request, but again, because of the information we can get out of this assessment – as far as identifying our challenges and making sure our performance is peak for our wastewater plant – is a benefit as well.”

Liberty Hill is nearing the end of the second expansion at the plant since 2018. The original plant is a sequential batch reactor (SBR), which is much older wastewater technology. The expansion that was brought online in early 2018 is Microdyn technology, which uses a biological treatment process, using the same bacteria found in the human digestive system. The Microdyn plant can process 800,000 gallons per day, compared to the SBR plant’s 400,000 gallon capacity.

Once the Microdyn plant was brought online the City had hoped to shudder the SBR plant, but wastewater demands forced the City to bring it back online. The newest expansion, from Suez, a company using similar technology to Microdyn, is expected to come online later next Spring, and is expected to once again allow the City to close down the SBR plant.

“Everything is on pace,” she said. “We should be receiving our first Suez equipment in December, so to my knowledge and the information I’ve received from our engineers, we are on track for this spring.”
Once the two newer plants are online the hope is the newer technology will further improve the effluent.

“As far as the Suez and the Microdyn, we have faith that they are able to obtain our numbers based on our TCEQ permit,” Hale said. “The concern I have is about the SBR, which is the oldest piece of wastewater treatment equipment out there, which was originally purchased.

“When Suez comes on line the SBR is being shut down, so we will no longer be using the SBR, so right now we still have faith that Suez is going to be able to get those numbers. In the meantime, we just want to be able to set that path and that foundation with the new plant, with our operations, with out equipment. With the consultant it adds an additional layer of in setting the foundation for operations going forward.”

Hale said the City anticipates a 4-6 week process to get data and the assessment from Olson, at a cost not to exceed $5,000. The work will be funded through the City’s Wastewater Fund.

“We just want to make sure our operations are at peak performance,” Hale said. “There’s no harm, no foul in bringing in an additional resource to make sure we are making the adjustments and everything we need to moving forward in hitting our permit levels.”