So That Was the Smell: San Antonio Fined for More Than 23 Million Gallons of Raw Sewage Dumped in Waterways

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Have you ever been strolling by the San Antonio River Walk and thought you smelled something a little, you know, funky? Turns out it may not have all been in your head, or nose.

The San Antonio Water System was supposed to be taking care of the raw sewage coming into the plant, but from 2006 to 2012, the SAWS was allegedly dumping raw sewage directly into city waterways, which is so clear-as-crystal in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The problem comes from a lack of capacity, according to Environmental News Service. When the sewer system fills up with rainwater -- the monsoon-like rainstorms we get every so often haven't ended the drought but did flood the sewer system -- the untreated sewage gets sent out into the waterways along with the storm water. (Yup, playing in the rain is fun, but be thoughtful about any pools of water you plop into.)

Preventing raw sewage from being loosed onto unsuspecting populations, which can causes all kinds of diseases that are spread via contaminated water, is one of the primary jobs of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Diseases like typhoid and cholera and all kinds of bacteria are spread through contaminated water.)

EPA inspectors confirmed the violation in 2011 and the U.S. Justice Department brought a suit against SAWS on behalf of the EPA, charging that the water system had about 2,200 overflows from its sanitary sewer system dumping more than 23 millions of raw sewage into local waterways, according to an EPA release.

The SAWS reached a settlement after agreeing to pay a civil penalty of $2.6 million -- half of which will go to the state of Texas, a co-plaintiff in the suit -- and to spend $1.1 billion upgrading its infrastructure so raw sewage, including "solids" -- which is a fancy codename for feces in the sewage world -- stops spilling into the water system. The upgrade will improve 5,200 miles of sewer pipe and will take place over the next ten to 12 years, according to the consent decree.

We don't tend to make a lot of jokes about San Antonio around here, since it has the Alamo and isn't Dallas, but it's still something to think about that while the city boasts the San Antonio River Walk, the odds are good said river walk has had raw sewage floating through it in the recent past. Just saying.

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