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Corpus Christi's new wastewater system will cost taxpayers millions

Posted at 2:34 PM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 23:04:36-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — City leaders recently struck a deal regarding its outdated wastewater system with federal officials after a decade of negotiations.

The agreement stems from a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency because of sanitary sewer overflows into federal waters.

The agreement is called a consent decree. City leaders call it a road map for long needed infrastructure work.

“The consent decree is really a work plan for how the City of Corpus Christi will improve its wastewater system over the next 15 years,” said Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni.

Under the terms of this agreement, the city will pay a $1.1 million fine, plus the city has 15 years to get the wastewater system up to par.

The city first got on the EPA’s radar in 2008 when sewage repeatedly overflowed into Corpus Christi Bay. Negotiations started a couple years later, and the feds’ initial settlement offer would have hit the city hard.

“The EPA came in heavy-handed said (the city) needed to invest over a billion dollars into your system ten years ago,” said Director of Water Utilities Kevin Norton. “That would have significantly increased everyone’s wastewater rates.”

Even without the agreement, city leaders say the work needed to be done.

”There’s a lot of repairs that need to take place in the lines, we have to improve the capacity, as well as the amount of sewage that flowed underground in our system,” said Zanoni.

The city plans to update its six treatment plants, 102 lift stations, and more than 1,400 miles of underground pipe.

The city estimates the project to $725 million. Rate payers won’t see an increase right away, but next October, the average water user (based on 5,000 gallons per month) will see their bill go up about three dollars a month. It goes up another dollar in October 2023.

“There is a plan for each of the next 15 years with some additional staff along the way, as well as rate adjustments for the rate payer to help pay for all the infrastructure improvements,” said Zanoni.

As part of the agreement, the city is also allowed to keep the Oso Water Reclamation Facility on Nile Drive, the city’s largest. The EPA had wanted it moved.

City officials say work started even while the city and EPA were negotiating. They estimate a third of the underground pipe has been replaced.