City looks to reduce bacteria in Austin waterways

AUSTIN -- People and animals are causing problems in Austin's water, according to city engineers. They say bacteria levels in city waterways are too high, and now they're coming up with a plan to fix it.

City and state officials held a meeting downtown Thursday night and allowed for the public to see that plan.

Officials said the contamination levels in some of our creeks could pose a health risk, so they're trying to stay ahead of the problem and find a way to reduce that bacterium before it gets even higher.

Austinites are known to enjoy the outdoors with their families and their pets.

"Every day four times a day," said dog owner Tim Kelleher.

Kelleher says he always picks up after his dogs.

"We are normally very responsible people," he said. "If they care about a dog they take care of it and the environment."

Not everyone is responsible.

"There are hundreds of thousands of pounds of poop delivered on the ground every day from dogs living in Austin so it does have a lot of potential to contaminate our waterways if not properly disposed of," explained Austin Watershed Protection Engineer Chris Herrington.

Herrington says some of Austin's waterways have levels of E. coli above the state's limits and could pose a risk for swimmers. But pet waste isn't the only thing contaminating the creeks. Leaking sewage infrastructure, wild animals and people who use the waterways as a bathroom also add to the problem.

"If you do ingest some of the contaminated water some of the most common health symptoms you would have are gastroenteritis, so you would have upset stomach and diarrhea," Herrington explained.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality identified four water bodies with elevated fecal levels including, Spicewood, Walnut, Taylor South and the Waller Watershed. Now The TCEQ has teamed up with the city, The University of Texas and other Austin groups to come up with a solution that could include more public restrooms and showers, new pet-waste dispensers and vegetation along the creeks to help with storm runoff.

The plan also has an educational element.

"We want to reach out to some of our homeless residents and try and educate them on ways they can be safe and not cause water quality problems," he said.

Next the TCEQ will review the comments from the meeting and modify the plan if need be. Then they will approve and adopt the plan. Herrington says they don't have a total cost estimate for the project but they may secure funding through grants from the TCEQ.


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