HARKER HEIGHTS — Public works officials are warning residents to stay away from Trimmier Creek downstream of the Tuscany Meadows subdivision because of elevated bacteria levels in the water, according to a public service announcement issued Friday.
Mark Hyde, the city’s public works director, said the city conducted a series of tests Friday upstream and downstream of a wastewater system manhole that was the source of a raw sewage leak into the creek in late December.
“Due to elevated e-coli levels in the Trimmier Creek Tributary adjacent to the Tuscany Meadows residential subdivision the City of Harker Heights requests residents to avoid recreational contact with the water in the creek until further notice,” Hyde wrote in the announcement.
Hyde said the city will post temporary signs today around the section of the creek that runs underneath Chaparral Road and would post door hangers on the homes of residents in the Tuscany Meadows subdivision.
Trimmier Creek is a tributary of the Stillhouse Hollow Lake reservoir southeast of Harker Heights.
The reservoir is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will provide drinking water to Killeen when a $50 million treatment plant opens in 2019.
The lake is a drinking water source for thousands of residents, including customers served by the Kempner Water Supply Corp.
On Tuesday, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sent the Daily Herald preliminary results from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality bacteria tests near the site of the sewage leak conducted as part of its investigation into the incident. Those results showed Escherichia coli levels that were more than 1,000 times the level considered safe for human contact.
Symptoms of E. coli infections include diarrhea, vomiting and a high fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most E. coli infections are mild, some can become severe or life-threatening, particularly in children.
When reached Thursday, Hyde said TCEQ had not notified the city of the elevated bacteria levels.
Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman with TCEQ, declined to comment Wednesday and said the investigation was ongoing.
Hyde said the city’s tests downstream of the leak site showed levels that were only eight times greater than the level considered safe but were high enough to necessitate a public announcement.
The city will be conducting daily tests around the leak site to monitor bacteria levels in the water, according to the announcement. The city also is testing its wastewater system infrastructure for leaks.
The city will not disinfect the creek to eliminate the bacteria but instead will allow the bacteria to clear from the water naturally, Hyde said.
“Trying to lower those levels will cause more problems than letting them reduce naturally,” Hyde said. “If you try to disinfect it, you’re going to kill a lot of aquatic life in the stream.”
Residents downstream from the leak site reported a fish die-off about the same time as the leak.
Travis Tidwell, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fish kill biologist, said about 200 fish had been found dead.
Although the state is still investigating the connection between the fish kill and sewage leak, Tidwell said the two incidents are often connected.
“Sewage spills such as this one cause fish kills because the bacteria use up all the oxygen in the water during respiration,” Tidwell said. “We are looking to exclude any other pollution or natural events that may have caused the fish kill before making a determination.”
City officials are unsure what caused the leak, saying an unknown obstruction in the system caused sewage to overflow from the manhole. Hyde said the city was looking for the cause, but resident negligence could have been a factor.
“I can guarantee the sewer won’t back up again only if the public don’t flush toys, underwear, socks down the commode,” Hyde said.
For more information, contact the public works department at 254-953-5649. The department’s hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
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