Illegally dumped sewage poses health risks

April 5, 2019

Ector County Environmental Enforcement officers have turned their attention to addressing illegally dumped sewage as complaints roll in from both south and West Odessa.

Rickey George, director of the unit, said they have received calls from residents on a weekly basis about the problem, which mostly point to RV or mobile home parks out in the county as the perpetrators.

George attributed the rise of illegally dumped sewage to a few interlaced problems that begin with the lack of housing across Odessa and the increased population of those living outside of city limits.

“Anybody with land in Ector County can turn it into an RV park and there is an income potential but septic systems, to install them legally, are quite expensive for some people and they just don’t want to take those steps.

George said some people are also installing septic systems that will eventually fail.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is even if they put a septic system in they put a very small one in that is designed for one home and then you have multiple homes using it so it’s not designed to do that,” George said.

Director of the Ector County Health Department Gino Solla said one of the primary duties of the health department’s environmental section is waste water, which comprises of inspecting and permitting on-site sewage facilities throughout Ector County.

Solla said a septic system could cost between $15,000-$20,000 for someone living in a rocky area of the county and he said many forego going through proper channels for sewage treatment because of the cost.

He estimates for every septic system inspected and permitted legally, there are at least eight systems installed illegally in Ector County.

George said this issue is not new to the county but illegally dumped sewage has been made a priority by the three environmental officers that staff the unit as more reports come in and temperatures heat up.

“We do see a lot of raw sewage being dumped,” George said. “It’s actually becoming one of our most primary complaints right now because it’s such a huge public health issue.”

Solla said the possibility of ground water contamination with things like E. coli or Hepatitis A arises if a person circumvents bacteriological and chemical filtering that occurs during the septic system process.

“You can’t just pump it into a hole in the ground, you can’t just pump it on top of the ground and you definitely can’t pump it down abandoned water wells,” George said. “It’s a criminal violation in Texas to discharge raw sewage illegally.”

George said along with written citations, an arrest has already been made this year regarding illegally dumped sewage pumped down old water wells. He said it is possible for water pollution to occur in that situation if a neighbor has a well in that same area.

“Everybody in that general area, especially the area of concentration where they are dumping this, that area is probably more apt to be affected with whatever contaminant that is going into that water,” Solla said. “Be on the lookout for yourself and your neighbors because it is a limited resource. There’s only a certain amount of water underground that is potable and when that’s gone it’s gone.”

George told west Odessa residents during a town hall in March to be patient after making a report and encouraged the audience to take photos for evidence when possible.

“We’ve exceeded our operational capabilities,” he said. “When you call you can pretty much guarantee there’s 40 calls ahead of you.”

Ector County Judge Debi Hays said she would support adding an employee to the environmental enforcement staff during the next budget cycle to assist the unit with administrative tasks in order to free up more hours for officers to focus on patrolling the county.