Rice farmers seek action against Skull Creek polluter

 

Rice farmers are asking for immediate enforcement of a court order against an alleged polluter of Skull Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, which provides irrigation water to grow rice.

The toxic spill does not pose any immediate risks to rice crops currently being planted and farmers want to keep it that way, said Ronald Gertson, chairman of the Colorado Water Issues Committee, which represents rice farmers in the lower Colorado River basin.

“LCRA has told me that their tests downstream and at irrigation intakes do not indicate contamination beyond drinking water standards,” said Gertson “This says to me there is no reason to believe there is an imminent threat to crops irrigated from the Colorado.”

On April 12, Inland Environmental and Remediation Inc., an oil and gas recycling company, was ordered to stop discharging any illegal waste into Skull Creek from its Altair facility. The temporary restraining order request was part of a suit against Inland Environmental by the Attorney General’s office on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Over the past two months, a dark oily substance with foul odor has been seen three times in the creek, which flows into the Colorado River south of Altair.

CWIC wants evidence that Inland Environmental is immediately complying with the court order - which also requires the company to contain all waste in covered containers with no leaks, drain liquid waste from open-air containment basins and place it in covered containers, and stop waste-vessel washout operations unless waste is contained within an area on site.

“We need proof that this order is being implemented now and monitored to ensure no further contamination,” said Gertson. “Enforcement action has been slow in coming and we’re expecting state agencies to make up for lost time.”

In early February, when the first spill was sited, Colorado County officials reported it to the TCEQ, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Railroad Commission. No state action was taken until April 12 when the Attorney General filed suit in the 53rd Judicial District.      

On April 8, the Colorado County Commissioners Court passed a resolution to enable the county to convene a grand jury and conduct a criminal investigation into the contamination.

On April 16, the Lower Colorado River Authority authorized its general manager to “take all actions necessary” to pursue enforcement actions for violations of water quality rules. 

The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition said it deplores a series of toxic spills on Skull Creek that have killed fish and endangered wildlife and humans, and it supports county and state efforts to stop the contamination and prosecute the offenders.

On April 12, the State Attorney General won a temporary restraining order against Inland Environmental and Remediation Inc., an oil and gas recycling company, on grounds that public health and environment are threatened by waste discharges from its Altair facility into Skull Creek. Over the past two months, a dark oily substance with foul odor has been seen three times in the creek, which flows into the Colorado River south of Altair.

“The creek is dead,” said Colorado County Judge Ty Prause, who is a member of Coalition Executive Committee. “Our immediate concern is gauging the possible risks to people and animals – and we need answers now from regulatory agencies.” 

In early February, when the first spill was sited, Prause reported it to the TCEQ, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Railroad Commission. “All we got for two months was the agencies taking water samples, testing on site, pointing fingers at each other about whose jurisdiction it was, and no information to keep our citizens informed until the filing of a lawsuit Petition last Friday,” said Prause.

“Surely we should expect and receive better communication and true partnering with local government from TCEQ, RRC and Parks and Wildlife when there is a real emergency,” he continued. “These agencies are supposed to serve as guardians and stewards of our State’s precious resources and this event in Colorado County has highlighted the need for reform.”

Feeling a need for action, the Colorado County Commissioners Court passed a resolution on April 8 to enable the county to convene a grand jury and conduct a criminal investigation into the contamination.

Finally on April 10, the TCEQ provided a toxicology report and on April 12 filed suit against Inland Environmental, including the temporary restraining order request. The AG’s office may seek statutory penalties.      

 “We’re concerned about downstream,” said Wharton County Judge Philip Spenrath, also a member of the Coalition Executive Committee. Wharton County is just south of Colorado County along the Colorado River.

On April 16, the Lower Colorado River Authority authorized its general manager to “take all actions necessary” to pursue enforcement actions for violations of water quality rules. 

“LCRA is alarmed by the water quality data we are seeing downstream of the Inland facility,’’ LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson said in a statement. “We are very concerned, and we are considering taking action to resolve this issue quickly to protect water quality in the creek and the Colorado River.” 

The Lower Colorado River Basin Coalition is urging all agencies to act promptly and to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.

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