Houston Consent Decree

The City of Houston’s consent decree will provide $2B in improvements to upgrade Houston’s aging wastewater system and keep up with Houston’s rapidly growing population.  

BACKGROUND 

In the late 1980s, the Federal government began a nationwide effort under the Clean Water Act to address sanitary sewer overflows. A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is a backup of raw wastewater that can contaminate our water, causing property damage, and threatening public health. 

On April 1, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas approved a consent decree between the City of Houston, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Texas to improve Houston's wastewater system. 

PLAN 

Upgrade & Improve System 

Houston’s wastewater system is one of the largest and most complex in the nation with over 6,200 miles of wastewater lines, 381 lift stations, 3 wet weather facilities, and 39 wastewater treatment plants. 

Fix Aging Infrastructure 

Over the next 15 years, the City will fix aging wastewater lines and upgrade infrastructure.  

Early Action Projects 

Early Action Projects began even before the consent decree was signed. 

Capacity Assessment & Remediation 

Nine areas with a history of recurring high-volume SSOs during rainfall events will be assessed & repaired. 

Capacity, Management, Operations & Maintenance 

100% of wastewater lines in Houston will be assessed, cleaned, and repaired as needed. 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS 

What is a consent decree? 

A consent decree is a legal document filed with the court, and approved by the judge, that formalizes a settlement agreement between the City of Houston, EPA and Texas. 

Is Houston the only city with a consent decree? 

No, the EPA has taken enforcement against 92% of the largest wastewater systems in the country. 

How will this impact water & wastewater bills? 

The consent decree was designed for the most cost-effective use of ratepayer dollars. Houston’s wastewater system receives funds collected from ratepayers, not the City’s General Fund. 

A recent rate study will consider the required improvements under the consent decree and impacts on rates. Water and wastewater rates are expected to remain below the EPA’s affordability threshold of 2% of median household income. 

How can sanitary sewer overflows be prevented? 

Fats, oils and grease never should be poured down the drain. When fats, oils and grease build up and harden in wastewater lines, it can cause blockages and sanitary sewer overflows. Visit ProtectOurPipes.org for more information. 

How do sanitary sewer overflows get reported or cleaned up? 

Call 311 (713.837.0311) to report the location. Houston Water will investigate, clean, and report the overflow to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

RESOURCES