By Anthony Scott
Killeen Daily Herald
Every day, dozens of joggers use the Community Center Park trails that run along Nolan Creek, where murky water and litter can usually be seen. This past week, the creek had a new addition: raw sewage.
A mechanical failure at lift station 1 sent about 298,000 gallons of wastewater pouring into the creek Tuesday evening. Two days later, the city of Killeen advised its residents to avoid the creek between W.S. Young and Twin Creek drives until Monday.
"A mechanical failure at the lift station occurred Tuesday evening, prompting a surcharge of the system," Public Information Officer Danielle Durbin said in a prepared statement. "City crews are treating the water in the area affected by the overflow."
Drainage Utility Project Engineer Kristina Ramirez did not confirm the cause of the malfunction, but said a large buildup of grease was found in the lift station and has been a problem in the past. Four manholes also discharged sewage, affecting one business at the intersection of 38th and Water streets.
Jogger Veronica Acevedo, 18, said she was at the park Wednesday after it happened and noticed the smell. It was gone Thursday evening.
"(The city needs) to take care of what they've done," she said. "If they've messed it up, then they need to take responsibility to clean it up."
After the sewage discharge, the city immediately went to clean up and disinfect what it could, Ramirez said.
"Our first response was to get the overflow stopped and our second stop was to make sure anything the public had access to was clean and disinfected."
As of Thursday evening, no signs were placed near the creek to warn park visitors it had been contaminated. A dog was seen splashing through the creek as it fetched a stick. Nearby an unknowing family brought two children down to walk near the water.
Al Couch, a Kempner resident, was visiting with his granddaughters. The family was walking along the water and picking up nearby rocks before finding out about the notice warning residents to avoid the creek.
"It's better to know when it happened two days ago," he said. "I think we'd best stay away and just stay in the park."
Ramirez said it's not typical protocol to place a sign; however, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires the municipality give notice to the public within 72 hours of the spill.
"We are actually less than 48 hours," Ramirez said, referring to the publication of information on the spill.
In the meantime, the city will monitor the level of E. coli and dissolved oxygen in the water. The dissolved oxygen level can indicate how healthy water is for living organisms.
Typically, water should be at 5 or greater. A level of 3 to 5 means life in the water is distressed. Immediately after the spill, the creek did have levels in the 4.5 range. As for E. coli levels, water samples were sent to an accredited lab and the results won't be in for two to four weeks, Ramirez said.
"We did run a small testing in-house but then again we're not accredited," she said. "They were indicative of a sewer overflow. They were showing a high level."
Contact Anthony Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.