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Despite having publicized a message earlier this year asking households to stop flushing non-soluble items down toilets, Cotulla utility director David Wright said last week that baby wipes continue to clog the city’s wastewater lines.
City Hall staff and elected councilors agreed at a meeting Thursday, August 12, that it is possible many families are unaware that the term ‘flushable’ on packaging of wipes and towelettes is misleading and that the items should not, in fact, be pushed down toilets.
Wright introduced councilors to the city’s newest licensed utilities staffer, Jimmy Oranday, who has begun leading the wastewater department. Oranday echoed the director’s message and said he believes sewer line blockage is due in large part to Cotulla residents flushing non-flushables.
Oranday told councilors that the city expects to benefit from funds available through the Texas Water Development Board but that the price tag for a complete overhaul of the municipal wastewater treatment plant remains too high.
A priority on the list of necessary purchases for the utility service, Oranday said, is a bar screen that should be installed at one of the city’s sewer line lift stations “to keep trash out of the treatment plant.”
Councilors learned from Wright in a presentation earlier this year that debris being flushed down the city’s sewers has caused costly damage. While screens and other preventive measures are recommended, he said, public awareness of what should not be put into the sewer system will help prevent further blockage and damage.
Wright and Oranday told councilors that they do not believe the problem of sewer line blockage in Cotulla is entirely the fault of the nearby prison, and that blame can be placed equally on recklessness by local residents as well.
“Baby wipes, hypodermic syringes and more… the trash is cumulative,” Wright said last week. “It’s not just the prison. It’s everywhere. It’s coming from all over the city.”
City Administrator Larry Dovalina said utility crews are scratching their heads over how some of the debris made its way into the sewer lines.
“There have been two-by-four planks of wood in there,” Dovalina said. “How does someone flush that?”
“Is there something we are doing to stop the baby wipes being flushed?” Councilor Reynaldo Garcia asked at last week’s meeting. “It says it’s flushable, but it’s not.”
“Everyone is having trouble with the wipes,” Oranday said.
“We can print flyers to try to stop it,” Dovalina said of the city’s message to residents, asking them to stop flushing trash down toilets. “We need to let them know it’s becoming a problem.”
Oranday also told councilors that grease being flushed down city drains remains a problem and causes sewer system blockage. Additional screens, he said, will help diminish the impact, and local restaurants should have grease traps installed in their drains.
In related news, Wright updated councilors on construction progress for the city’s new water tower, which will soon stand near the municipal yard and the La Salle County Fairgrounds on Hwy 97, opposite the Cotulla High School campus. The tower’s proximity to the school, he said, prompted the city to ask Cotulla ISD for use of a ‘Cotulla Cowboys’ logo that will be painted on the water tank.
Although panels and support structure for the new water tower are in the fabrication stage, Wright said, installation may begin as early as mid-September with completion scheduled for January.