The Houston Police Department is alleging officials with Inframark, a third-party contractor operating the Kingwood Central Wasterwater Treatment Plant, doctored samples and records to suggest the plant had adequately treated sewage before releasing it into a waterway that feeds into one of the city’s main sources of drinking water, according to a search warrant released Feb. 22.

The search warrant affidavit, which was filed by Houston Police Sgt. Patrick Morrissey, was approved by Felony Associate Judge Stacy Allen on Feb. 16. HPD officers executed the search at the water plant the following morning.

"[T]here is probable cause to believe that raw sewage and/or pollutants are being discharged into Bens Branch, a waterway, a direct discharge point into Lake Houston," Morrissey wrote in an affidavit. "Evidence described herein shows that lab reports and other reports have been falsified to indicate that these discharges were in compliance with State permits and the Texas Water Code, when in fact they were not.”

While investigators said the drinking water taken from Lake Houston is treated at separate plants before it is consumed, officials maintain the sewage entering the Bens Branch waterway would not have passed regulatory standards.

Houston Public Works officials have stressed that the city’s water supply has remained safe to consume.

Representatives from Inframark released the following statement to Community Impact in a Feb. 23 email:

"We are committed to ensuring the safe operation of the Kingwood Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. We are working with the city of Houston to address the recent matter, but at no point was untreated sewage released from the plant. We are cooperating with the city and other authorities in their investigation. We have also engaged the King & Spalding law firm along with technical experts to conduct a third-party investigation.”

According to a Feb. 17 news release issued by Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office, the issue first arose in January after city officials received several reports of foul odors emanating from the plant.

While addressing the issue, officials said the Houston Public Works Department discovered irregularities in both plant operations and corresponding regulatory compliance documents that were then turned over to HPD’s Environmental Crimes Unit and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for investigation.

According to the affidavit, an official from Houston Public Works first visited the Kingwood Central Wastewater Treatment Plant on Jan. 31. The official said the plant was not functioning properly, noting the presence of sludge spilled on the property. He also noted two key components of the treatment process were malfunctioning.

The affidavit states the Houston Public Works official checked the plant’s lab results during the Jan. 31 visit and found the records indicated everything was operating normally. The following day, a city investigator tested a sample of the plant’s water that had allegedly been treated and found the water contained an E.coli content of more than 24,200 per 100 milliliters, well above the single-day regulatory maximum of 399 per 100 milliliters.

During the investigation, the city investigator found the plant’s autosampler—which is used to test water samples—was frozen and not functioning during his Feb. 2 visit, according to the affidavit. However, Houston officials said lab reports, which would have conducted by the autosampler, were still submitted that day.

"This is contrary to what was seen and photographed [on Feb. 2] as the sampler was frozen solid and could not have taken a sample," the affidavit states. “It appears the sample analysis submitted to the City of Houston were forged or otherwise tampered with.”

The warrant cites several statutes that may have been violated, including a Texas Water Code statute deeming it illegal to discharge pollutants and a separate felony statute deeming it illegal to discharge pollutants knowingly or intentionally. It also cites the Texas Penal Code stating it is illegal to tamper with government records.