Many residents in the DFW area enjoy visiting places like White Rock Lake to kayak, go for runs and enjoy nature. But have you ever asked yourself why it’s unsafe to swim there?
Echo Rexroad, Environmental Quality Manager for the city of Plano, explained that Plano residents play a role in making places such as White Rock Lake inhospitable to humans and breeding grounds for bacteria.
Rexroad said that a lot of local residents have misconceptions about how to handle fats, oils, and grease in their kitchens. She said many residents dump residual fats leftover from cooking down their drains. From there, the grease can conglomerate and clog local sewage pipes and contaminate local ecosystems like White Rock Lake.
When local sewage pipes get clogged and inevitably overflow in other locations, this is detrimental to the local environment, she said.
This problem is not new. Rexroad said that in 2016, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) identified two impaired water valves in Plano, meaning that the levels of bacteria in the water are significantly higher than what they should be.
“It’s been an issue forever. You’ll have sewer overflows either from aging infrastructure or from (fats, oils, and grease) you get in the line. We actually have two impaired water valves in Plano — White Rock Creek and Rowlett Creek.”
Rexroad said the best way to clean up fats and oils in the kitchen is actually quite simple.
"If it’s just a small amount like if you had bacon that morning then you can just wait for that grease to cool off, then get a paper towel, scrape it out, and throw that away (in the trash),” Rexroad said.
For larger amounts, like from frying a large turkey, Rexroad said residents can pour their grease waste into a container and ask the city to take care of it for them.
“The city of Plano will actually pick it up for you, if you give them a call. They’ll come to your house and pick it up,” Rexroad said.
On a grander scale, the city already requires restaurants to pump out their grease in a safer manner, forbidding them from tossing greases and fats down the sink. But at the residential level, it would be impractical and expensive to install a system like this.
Rexroad offered a few reasons why she believes Planoites should care about the impact their kitchen habits have on local ecosystems. First, it makes local watersheds, rivers, and lakes inhospitable for humans to swim in. If you want your children and dogs to be able to safely swim in places such as White Rock Lake someday, Rexroad advises thinking twice about skipping the extra step of disposing of kitchen fats safely.
Otherwise, the bacteria levels in the lake may be too high and your children could wind up getting ill, Rexroad says.
Second, Rexroad said this ultimately affects residents’ pocketbooks. In 2018, the City of Plano spent an estimated 4.56 million dollars on cleaning up the effects of backups in plumbing systems caused by fats, oils, and grease.
Since local watersheds are the source of our drinking water, increasing the bacteria levels and dumping sewage and grease into the supply ultimately makes it much more expensive and difficult to treat the water.
“The big picture is, we’re all affected by what goes into our water and our tax dollars are being used to clean it up. People don’t realize it’s affecting their pocketbook indirectly. The harder entities have to work to clean up the water, the more expensive it is,” Rexroad said.
Lastly, this ultimately impacts ecosystems outside the DFW area. It’s not just a localized issue that DFW residents create for themselves.
“People also don’t really understand the concept of a watershed,” Rexroad said.
“All of these creeks I’m talking about — the White Rock Creek (and) Rowlett Creek — which are impaired with bacteria, those eventually end up in the Trinity River, and then the Trinity River eventually goes all the way into the Gulf of Mexico.”