Explaining Amarillo wastewater spills after heavy rain

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 9:41 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:15 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) -Over the past three weeks, The City of Amarillo says its experienced wastewater spills because of extreme rain.

Essentially, a large amount of rainwater entered the Amarillo wastewater system and overwhelmed the pipes.

For perspective, the city says the wastewater plants can withstand up to 12 million gallons per day. Typically, the plants see 8 million gallons per day, but what the plants have been seeing the past few weeks is flows up to 30 million gallons per day.

“We had surcharging in the plant that’s where the water is coming out of manholes and is now flowing across land, so we effectively had the plant flooded out while still in operation and treating wastewater,” says Mike Price, Assistant Director of Utilities for The City of Amarillo.

Price goes on to say facility personnel have been working day and night to mitigate flooding; however, they can’t inspect pipes until the water recedes.

Right now there is no risk outside of the plant facilities.

About 5 wastewater spills took place in the last 3 weeks due to the severe weather, but the majority took place at the Hollywood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Hollywood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant during the flooding
Hollywood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant during the flooding(COA)
Hollywood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant as of June 7th
Hollywood Road Wastewater Treatment Plant as of June 7th(kfda)

“We had three weeks of flows in 50% in excess of what we would normally have in the plant, gradually add up our capacity when the major rain event hit,” says John Collins, Director of Utilities for The City of Amarillo.

Certain steps are being followed to clean up the spills.

“We will vacuum it up near the lift stations and contain the water and put it back into the system where can be treated,” explains Collins.

The Utilities Department is also using special plants tolerant to chlorides.

“So that it will eventually refresh the ground as though it never had a spill because there have been a few spills in that area in the past,” says Collins.

Collins says the good news is, rainwater diluted the wastewater significantly, there’s just a lot of it, increasing the cost to treat the water.

Amarillo wastewater diluted from the rain
Amarillo wastewater diluted from the rain(John Collins)

“The upside is it’s cleaner than it’s ever been, and the downside is it’s cost us more than it’s ever cost,” says Collins.

Collins says once the rain stops it will take about a week for operations to go back to normal, and they can investigate the system to prevent an event like this from happening again in the future.

The city says you can help mitigate further damage by not opening up manholes in the street.