Community Vision for Justice in the Sewers, Houston Style

Kristen Schlemmer
April 1, 2024

Three years have passed since a federal judge in Houston approved the City of Houston’s plan to invest $2 billion in local sanitary sewer upgrades over 15 years. The negotiated settlement, known as a consent decree, resulted from a federal enforcement action prompted by Bayou City Waterkeeper’s investigation in 2018. The agreement requires the City to meet strict timelines to eliminate releases of untreated sewage into local neighborhoods, parks, and bayous. The City must also pay penalties for ongoing releases in the meantime.

Bayou City Waterkeeper’s analysis of City of Houston data leading to the federal enforcement action identified over 9,300 sewage overflows that potentially violated the Clean Water Act and had disproportionate effects on lower-wealth, Black, and brown communities across Houston. Our analysis of data that we have continued to receive as part of court-mandated reporting, shows that ongoing sewage overflows continue to disproportionately affect these same communities. This creates an ongoing issue of environmental injustice that must be addressed.

Visit our Justice in the Sewers map to understand how sewage affects your neighborhood.

To commemorate the first two years of the consent decree, and understand the on-the-ground effects of Houston’s once-in-a-generation investment, we launched resources and tools available on our Justice in the Sewers hub. For the third anniversary, we have collaborated with communities affected by sewage problems and our partners Northeast Action Collective and West Street Recovery to develop sewage demands and a policy brief, which you can view in English and Spanish. Over the year ahead, we will be asking the City of Houston to close gaps in sewage investment by creating a $20 million fund to support sewage repairs where people need them most: at their homes.

Learn more by reading our sewage demands and visiting our Justice in the Sewers hub.

Bayou City Waterkeeper protects the waters and people across the greater Houston region through bold legal action, community science, and creative, grassroots policy to further justice, health, and safety for our region. In the third year of monitoring the Houston consent decree, Bayou City Waterkeeper is collaborating with community members, Northeast Action Collective, and West Street Recovery and working toward a vision of sewage justice for all Houston residents.