SLIDESHOW:  Flash floods last winter wrecked Cape’s Dam on the San Marcos River, originally built more than 160 years ago by an early settler. The diminished structure was a pitiful sight in January when this photo was taken, months before the property was donated to the city for use as parkland. MERCURY PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS.  Lost in the soothing roar of falling water, a sunbather perches on the northern tip of Thompson’s Islands during a late summer afternoon in 2012. For decades, the dam was the gateway to a secluded hangout for locals willing to risk trespassing citations to escape crowds of tourists on the river’s uppermost stretch. MERCURY PHOTO by JAMIE MALDONADO
FROM SUBMITTED REPORTS
An estimated 15,000 gallons of raw sewage poured into the San Marcos River yesterday morning after construction workers broke a 20-inch-diameter wastewater main near Thompson’s Islands.
At about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, contractors preparing a construction site on River Road for the forthcoming Woodlands of San Marcos development breached one of two wastewater force mains that connect a major lift station at the apartment property’s edge to the city’s nearby wastewater treatment plant.
Public works crews arrived within 10 minutes of the break and labored for 2.5 hours to stop and contain the spill, city spokesperson Trey Hatt said. Despite their efforts, between 20,000 and 25,000 gallons of untreated wastewater escaped the broken main and an estimated 15,000 gallons of the sewage made it into the river, the spokesperson said.
The spill was not significant enough, however, to make river water unsafe for humans or wildlife downstream of the spill, said Tom Taggart, executive director of the city’s Public Services division.
“This amount should not pose additional river quality concerns downstream. Crews worked quickly and diligently to stop as much wastewater as they could from reaching the river,” Taggart said.
Last January, Mayor Daniel Guerrero and a majority of the city council approved Athens, Ga.-based Dovetail Development’s request for rezoning and land use designations to build a 306-unit, 1,000-bedroom apartment complex on property locally known as Cape’s Camp. As part of the deal, Dovetail Development donated nearly 20 riverfront acres to the San Marcos Parks & Recreation department. The gifted acreage includes Thompson’s Islands, a heavily wooded property that lies between the river’s main channel and a mill race built in the 1850s to power a cotton gin.
Following city council’s approval of the project, the Woodlands property sat idle for more than a year as the developer successfully sought the blessing of Federal Emergency Management Administration officials for a plan to elevate the complex’s footprint out of reach of the 100-year floodplain.
On Feb. 11, City Hall issued a construction permit allowing an estimated $713,000 in site preparation work to Doucet & Associates, the Austin-based firm serving as the project’s civil engineer, records state. At the contractor’s request, the alignment of the wastewater main and other underground utilities were marked by city workers before work began, Hatt said.
The city will bill the developer for the cost of repairs to the broken main and for the expense of containing and cleaning up the spill, Hatt said. Under state law, the city must report the incident to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which has the authority to conduct its own investigation and levy a fine if its enforcement unit determines one is warranted.