Questions or Comments: oce@tceq.texas.gov
You are here:

Unauthorized Discharges and Sanitary Sewer Overflows

Requirements for reporting unauthorized wastewater discharges and overflows from sanitary sewers.

TCEQ monitors for unauthorized discharges of wastewater, including municipal, industrial, recreational, and other waterborne wastes as defined in Texas Water Code Subsection 26.001(6) and, when necessary, pursues enforcement action for noncompliance.

Do these requirements apply to me?

If you are a manager, or professional or operating personnel at a permitted facility, or a subscriber (see definitions below) you are subject to these requirements.

A permitted facility is the holder of a water quality permit issued by TCEQ or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A permitted facility may be a municipality, municipal water district, private individual, or company. TCEQ issues several types of water quality permits, but most relevant to these requirements are the permits that regulate wastewater collection and treatment.

A subscriber is any municipality, business, or organization acting as a waste contributor or customer of a permitted facility. Subscribers are owners of components of satellite collection systems, such as pipes, conduits, lift stations, force mains, or other devices used to transport wastewater directly to a permitted facility or to the collection system of a permitted facility operated by a different municipality, business, or other organization. Examples of subscribers include:

  • a city
  • a stand-alone store that operates its own sewage lift station
  • a school campus
  • an apartment complex
  • a shopping mall
  • mobile-home community

What is an unauthorized discharge or a sanitary sewer overflow?

An unauthorized discharge (UD) is any discharge of wastewater into or adjacent to any water in the state at a location not permitted as an outfall. [See Clean Water Act Subsection 301(a) or Texas Water Code Section 26.121. For ways to locate state laws and regulations, see “Where Can I Get More Information?”.] An unauthorized discharge may include a discharge of wastewater onto land (paved or otherwise) or a discharge into a pond, creek, canal, river, lake, wetland, or any other body of surface water or groundwater.

A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is a type of unauthorized discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater from a collection system or its components (e.g., a manhole, lift station, or cleanout) before reaching a treatment facility. [See also Texas Water Code Paragraph 26.049(e)(4).]

Do I need to report a UD or an SSO, even a small one?

Yes. If your facility has a water quality permit you are required to notify TCEQ of UDs and SSOs. A subscriber is responsible for reporting unauthorized discharges from its collection system (Title 30, Texas Administrative Code (30 TAC), Section 327.32). Permitted facilities and subscribers must report all UDs and SSOs to TCEQ regardless of volume, as federal and state regulations do not have a specified minimum reporting volume. In addition, you may be required to notify the public under certain criteria.

When do I need to notify TCEQ?

Permitted facilities and subscribers must report the date, location, volume, and contents of the UD or SSO to their TCEQ regional office as soon as possible but no later than 24 hours after becoming aware of the event. During our normal business hours—Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.—the 24-hour notice must be given by phone or in person, or by fax to your local regional office. If the UD or SSO occurs after normal business hours, notify your local regional office by phone. (Be sure to note the date and time of your call in your records.) The recorded messages at each regional office explain how to notify TCEQ after business hours.

Use the Water Quality Noncompliance Notification form (application/pdfTCEQ-00501) or you can provide written notice in a letter. Include the permit number of your wastewater-treatment facility. All noncompliance notifications from subscribers must include the Regulated Entity Number (RN) of the collection system.

You must keep a copy of these written reports at the facility site and they must be readily available for review by TCEQ representatives for three years.

When do I need to notify the public?

For UDs and SSOs that meet the criteria listed below and occur at facilities owned or operated by a local government, the responsible individual of the local governmental authority must notify the public via media as soon as possible but no later than 24 hours after becoming aware of the event. A responsible individual is designated by the owner of a permitted facility or subscriber system to report noncompliances.

Criteria for public and media notification (30 TAC Section 319.302):

  • a discharge that will adversely affect a public or private source of drinking water, or
  • a discharge with a volume of 50,000 gallons or more where one or more of the following conditions also exists—
    • the spill occurs within ½ mile of a public or private source of drinking water;
    • the spill occurs within ½ mile of a private drinking-water well located within ½ mile of a well for public water supply;
    • the spill occurs within ½ mile up-gradient of a surface water intake of a public or private source of drinking water;
    • the spill occurs in an active groundwater-recharge area;
    • the spill occurs up-gradient and within ½ mile of a karst terrain or shallow alluvial well that is a source of drinking water; or
  • a discharge of 100,000 gallons or more.

If a UD or SSO that requires public notification occurs outside of normal business hours, the responsible individual must also notify the TCEQ Emergency Response Hotline 800-832-8224. Within 48 hours after notifying the public, you must also report to the regional office that public notice has been given. You can find complete information about these requirements in 30 TAC Sections 319.301–03.

When do I need to provide written notification to TCEQ?

In addition to the 24-hour notice, permitted facilities and subscribers are required to submit a written report to TCEQ within five working days after facility personnel become aware of the event. Subscribers must submit the written report to their TCEQ regional office. Permitted facilities must submit the written report to their TCEQ regional office and to the TCEQ’s Enforcement Division in Austin. Include all of the following in the report:

  • The nature of the UD or SSO (source, location, route, volume) and its specific cause.
  • The potential danger to human health or safety, or the environment (including monitoring data, if collected).
  • The duration, with exact dates and times.
  • An estimate of how long the noncompliance is expected to continue (if the noncompliance has not been corrected at the time of reporting) actions taken to mitigate adverse effects.
  • Steps taken to reduce, eliminate, and prevent recurrence of the noncompliance.

Use the Water Quality Noncompliance Notification form (application/pdfTCEQ-00501) or you may submit a written report in a letter. Include the permit number of your wastewater-treatment facility. All noncompliance notifications from subscribers must include the Regulated Entity Number (RN) of the collection system.

You must keep a copy of these written reports at the facility site and they must be readily available for review by TCEQ representatives for three years.

May I instead provide monthly written notification to TCEQ?

UDs and SSOs that meet the following criteria may be reported to TCEQ as a monthly summary instead of a 24-hour or five-day written notification. Submit the monthly summary to your TCEQ regional office by the 20th day of the following month. The UD or SSO must meet all of the following:

  • Occur at a wastewater-treatment facility or collection system owned or operated by a local government.
  • Be 1,000 gallons or less.
  • Not be associated with another simultaneous UD or SSO.
  • Be controlled or removed before entering water in the state or adversely affecting a public or private source of drinking water.
  • Not endanger human health or safety, or the environment.
  • Not be otherwise subject to local regulatory control and reporting.

The monthly summary must include all of the following information about the UD or SSO:

  • location, volume and content
  • description
  • cause
  • dates and duration
  • steps taken to reduce or eliminate it and prevent its recurrence

Use one of the following methods for determining the volume to submit on the monthly summary:

  • Visual method: For small spills, use either a 55-gallon barrel or 5-gallon bucket for reference. Determine how many barrels or buckets would be used to contain the UD or SSO.
  • Measured volume: Measure the length, width, and depth of the UD or SSO and then multiply by 7.5 (the conversion factor between cubic feet and gallons).
  • Duration and flow rate: Multiply the duration by the flow rate.
  • Other methods that are consistent with standard and accepted industry practices, as long as they include procedures to identify the duration, flow rate, depth, affected area, and total quantity of each spill.

Use the Accidental Discharge or Spill Monthly Summary Form (TCEQ-20756) or you may submit a written report in letter format.

Include the permit number of your wastewater-treatment facility. All noncompliance notifications from subscribers must include the Regulated Entity Number (RN) of the collection system.

You must keep a copy of these written reports at the facility site and they must be readily available for review by TCEQ representatives for three years.

After I’ve completed the notification requirements what do I do?

Each UD or SSO incident is unique and cleanup requirements should be based on individual circumstances. In preparation, each permitted facility or subscriber that might experience spills and overflows should have a contingency plan for such an incident. Your plan should include all the following actions:

  • Stop or mitigate the flow as soon as possible.
  • Contain the spill whenever possible.
  • Return as much of the spilled wastewater to the collection system or treatment facility as possible.
  • Remove and properly dispose of all solids.
  • Treat and disinfect the affected area as necessary (if using chemicals, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines).
  • Act quickly to reduce any threat to human health and the environment.
  • Assess any impact to the environment by taking laboratory samples.

After an incident, evaluate the causes and identify possible methods to prevent a recurrence. Remember to send your written report within five working days of becoming aware of the noncompliance unless you meet the criteria for the monthly summary.

What are the main causes of UDs and SSOs?

During dry weather, the most frequent causes of UDs and SSOs are reduced capacity, blockages, malfunctioning lift stations, and vandalism. Grease entering the collection system is also a common contributor. It is possible to minimize these occurrences through an aggressive preventive maintenance program, public education, and local enforcement of grease-trap and pretreatment ordinances.

For more information about grease traps, see application/pdfWaste from Grease Traps, Grit Traps, and Septic Tanks: Questions and Answers, TCEQ publication RG-389.

During wet weather, the most frequent causes of UDs and SSOs are infiltration and inflow into the collection system due to aging and deteriorating infrastructure:

  • Infiltration - groundwater that enters the collection system through leaky pipes, faulty pipe joints, or defective manholes.
  • Inflow - surface runoff that enters the collection system through missing or defective manhole covers, uncovered or damaged cleanouts, illegal stormwater connections, or defective pipes and manholes in streambeds or roadside borrow ditches.

Both can be confirmed by physically inspecting collection lines and manholes, smoke testing, and inspecting collection lines with cameras. Once problem areas are identified, a plan can be formulated for systematic repair and replacement.

How can we avoid enforcement actions or prevent SSOs?

TCEQ’s SSO Initiative strives to reduce the number of SSOs that occur each year in Texas and to address them before they harm human health or safety or the environment, and before they become enforcement issues. Participating in the SSO Initiative is entirely voluntary and requires a corrective action plan.

Participation excludes the collection system from formal enforcement for SSOs that are addressed by the corrective-action plan. However, under certain circumstances, TCEQ retains the right to take enforcement action or rescind a permitted facility’s or subscriber’s participation.

You can find additional information about the benefits and requirements on our SSO Initiative webpage and in application/pdfSanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) Initiative: Information for Prospective Participants, TCEQ publication GI-389.

Where can I get more information?

Contact your TCEQ regional office or TCEQ’s Small Business and Local Government Assistance Section 800-447-2827.

Back to the top of the page Back to top