Source: Water Online
By Sara Jerome

Mishandling sewage can mean serious time behind bars. The practice poses a threat to waterways and creates big headaches for water utilities.

“Police say that felony illegal dumping charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000,” KTRK reported.

Two Texas men were arrested in July after a concerned citizen alerted authorities that they had “dumped waste into a storm drain in front of the self-serve carwash on the 1300 block of S. Houston Ave,” the report said.

Sergeant Mike Flynt, a police detective in Humble, TX, explained that the two men appeared to be operating a vehicle service.

“A resident witnessed the two men allegedly pull up in a bus and start dumping raw sewage into a storm drain,” he said, per the report. “The resident filmed the two men as they reportedly dumped the sewage. When officers arrived, the observed there was toilet paper on the grade and the smell of raw sewage.”

Environmental regulators explained that this crime is a big deal because it poses a threat to waterways.

“A spokesperson with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) tells us that this type of crime has a much broader impact on public health, saying that such waste impacts the surface water, which is often treated and used for drinking water,” the report said.

This crime can create headaches for utilities.

“This kind of waste affects the surface water, which is often treated and used for drinking water. When it’s contaminated with excess human waste and other chemicals, it requires even more treatment to make it safe to drink,” Andrea Morrow of TCEQ said, per the report.

It’s not just criminals clogging up waterways with raw sewage. Some communities do this too, and it is often legal. For instance, “an estimated 24 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater are dumped into the Great Lakes every year, threatening our health, environment and economy,” according to a Chicago Tribune editorial.

Boaters also have considerable leeway to dump raw sewage into waterways.

“It might surprise you to learn that you can dump the contents of your toilet into Puget Sound and not get in trouble. That’s essentially what some boaters do when they discharge their sewage into the water instead of pumping it out at a dock or marina,” the Associated Press reported.

Washington State regulators have proposed a ban on this practice.

For related stories, visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: “Sewage outfall,” eutrophication&hypoxia © 2005, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: