Fatty problem building in the sewers of College Station

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX)- The City of College Station continually warns residents to not pour their oil, grease, or fat down the drain. Oil isn't the only issue causing problems at the Lick Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"Rags, shirts, rope, hair. I mean, anything that basically people flush thinking it's okay, ends up clumping together with the oils and causes issues," said Michael Garcia, the Lead Operator at the Lick Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Every day, Garcia comes across what they call "fatbergs," or clumps of non-flushable items mixed with fats, oils and greases, that flow through our sewer systems.

"It's almost like a rock in the sewer system and then it backs up," said Jennifer Nations, Water Resource Coordinator for the city. The "fatbergs" cause problems and costs the city of College Station money.

"The rags can wear [on] impellers, cause pumps to go out really quick and that's an expensive for the city. When you have to replace one of these pumps, it's $60,000 a piece," said Garcia.

Nations said as the city continues to grow, so do the problems.

"It's a very residential area and we're seeing an uptick in grease and non-flushable problems. That tells us that we want to get the message directly out to residents and remind them just toilet paper and human waste are the only things that should go down the toilet," said Nations.

"We are in the process of beginning an expansion from 2 million gallons a day to 4 million gallons of treatment capacity and so now is the time to look at problems that we're dealing--we added a preliminary screening station for this plant to remove the non-flushable items," said Nations.

Which costs the City $600 a week to remove items like rags, plastics, and other non-flushable items.

"One of the crazy things that we've seen is like underwear and t-shirts showing up in the waste water," said Nations.

Removing those items helps with the sanitation and treatment of the wastewater.

"Our treatment plants, both Carter Creek and Lick Creek, are designed on a biological treatment process so we're working with micro-organisms to break down the raw waste water and the diseases and viruses that might be in it, so we have to remove anything that's large and non-treatable," said Nations.

The city uses ultraviolet lights to break down the diseases pathogens found in the untreated waste water.

"The UV bulbs prevent the diseases from reproducing, and if they can't reproduce, they can't spread diseases, but if there is a large blob of grease on the bulb, then the light is not acting on the pathogen so we're not getting the disinfection that we need," said Nations.

Garcia and the rest of the crew at the Lick Creek plant said the "fatbergs" are not only causing issues with sanitation, but also time.

"When we do what we do correctly, if we can't limit the rags, limit the grease, we can treat the waste water to a higher efficiency because we put it out into a creek which then flows into a river which can eliminate other sickness, and basically over all public health," said Garcia.