Community Advocates Call for Meaningful Public Review of $2 Billion Consent Decree

Jordan Macha | July 16, 2019

Bayou City Waterkeeper and local partners urge Mayor Turner and City Council to give constituents the opportunity to review the proposed decree before voting.

 

Houston, TX – On Wednesday morning, 17 July 2019, the City of Houston will vote on a consent decree with the EPA and State of Texas, which will absolve the City of more than a decade’s worth of Clean Water Act violations emanating from its aging wastewater infrastructure. Through the consent decree, the City will commit to spend $2 billion dollars on wastewater infrastructure improvements over the next 15 years. 

Until Tuesday afternoon, the public had received almost no details about the consent decree, which the City agreed to disclose only after facing pressure from Bayou City Waterkeeper, local organizations, and citizens citywide preceding the City Council meeting.

At the City Council’s public session, Jordan Macha, the Executive Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, called on  Mayor Turner and City Council to give the public a chance to review and understand the consent decree before holding a vote. “Given the breadth of this agreement, we implore you to make clear that public input matters in this process. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address historic inequities, and improve water quality and public health across Houston. The public must be given the tools and the time to weigh in,” noted Macha. “Twelve hours or a week is not enough time to comprehensively review and understand more than 150 pages of technical information.”

Also calling for public participation at Tuesday’s public session were representatives from Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER), Environment Texas, and Public Citizen. Iris Gonzalez, CEER’s Coalition Director, asked the Council, “Can you tell us how the poorest communities will not be overburdened by the rate increase?… Can you describe the types of projects that will be implemented with this $2 billion?… Can you explain how the consent decree will reduce Houston’s contributions to climate change [and] prepare us to be a 21st century city that is more resilient? If not, then you’re not ready to vote.” 

Over the last week, approximately 50 community advocates and Houston residents submitted letters to Council Members and Mayor Turner, urging for transparency and public participation in the consent decree process. In a letter to the Mayor and Council Members, Dr. Earthea Nance, a professor at Texas Southern University and board-certified professional civil engineer with experience advising governments on wastewater infrastructure, called the City’s plans to vote without public participation “mystifying.” According to Dr. Nance, “The upcoming vote potentially puts the Council in the position of condoning an action on the scale of the $2.5 billion [Harris] County Bond Measure without a comparable level of public participation.” 

At the public session, former Public Works Director Daniel Krueger also testified in favor of more transparency and public participation before the City Council takes a vote on the proposed decree. Colonel Krueger urged the City Council to show the public that the decree is as good as promised.

To read the full consent decree, click here.

 

Jordan Macha is Bayou City Waterkeeper’s Executive Director and Waterkeeper