Montrose area residents dealing with smelly problem

HOUSTON It's one of Houston's older neighborhoods that's survived the test of time; vintage homes on tree-lined streets, and an increasing mix of new construction. The one thing the old and the new have in common is the city infrastructure that serves First Montrose Commons, and homeowners will tell you it's well past the breaking point.

Like a canary in a coal mine, Christian Brun's first floor commode can portend trouble. If it doesn't flush, he calls the city.

"They flush finally, the lines, and this is when it explodes," he said. "All the sewage comes out of this toilet and it goes everywhere, the sewage."

It has nothing to do with the home's plumbing, but underground, in the original clay sewer pipes, which are more than 80 years old. They're crumbling, which causes backups in homes and sewage in yards. This weekend, a city crew had to vacuum the effluent from one backyard.

Brun himself has to call the city every six months to unplug the city lines.

"When you get constituent calls like that, it becomes a health issue for me because of a lot of health concerns it can bring out for the community," said Houston city Councilmember Wanda Adams.

The neighborhood is in Adams' district. The problem she sees is that new construction is overloading an aging sewage system. It's doubtful development will stop, even though the city budget is under pressure.

"We know the city budget is being hit across the line, but to me, this is considered a health emergency because when you have sewer pipes that are exploding, every weekend, every day, exploding into people's pools, exploding into people's homes," said Adams.

A sewer redesign plan is about to begin. Actual repairs, though, are not, which means at the Brun house, 311 remains on speed dial.

"This works for a couple of weeks and it gets bad and there's nothing else we can do and have to call the city," said Brun.

Adams says she will meet with the city's public works director to talk about putting this project on a fast track. On average, though, only 3 percent of the sewer pipes in Houston are replaced every year, which means they rotate around and sections are replaced every 35 years.

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