What’s Wrong with City of Houston Water?

 dirty tap water, whats in your tap water

If you recently experienced one of Houston’s 90 plus degree summer days, and decided to enjoy a nice tall glass of Houston’s finest tap water on ice, only to discover that it tasted and smelled like dirt… You are not alone! Many people living in and around the Houston area, have noticed their tap water tasting and smelling a bit off lately.

Jennifer Elms, EHRA Engineering, Project Manager, Water and Wastewater Facilities

Jennifer Elms, P.E.

The City of Houston’s 311 service request line has been flooded with complaints about the taste and odor of the water over the last couple of weeks.

We recently spoke with Jennifer Elms, P.E. Project Manager from EHRA Engineering’s Water and Wastewater Facilities department and Texas AWWA officer, to get her take on the situation:

 

Is the City of Houston tap water safe to drink?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: Yes, tap water is always safe to drink. Many people stake their professional reputations on that fact. These people are engineers, managers, lab technicians, etc. Most all of us have to be certified in some fashion (PE for engineers, Operator license for operator, lab certifications, etc). It may not always smell the best and it may not taste the best but it is safe.

It has been reported that an algae bloom in the water source is responsible for the bad taste and smell. What caused the off smelling / tasting water?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: Algae bloom is an easy way to explain to the general public. Taste and odor issues with drinking water stem from organics in the source water, yes algae is an organic but there are other organics that may be present causing this problem (manganese, iron, etc. and other things like decaying leaf litter). Surface water sources are much more susceptible to taste and odor issues than groundwater, however groundwater can experience similar issues. Often times the cause of taste and odor is when the lake “turns over”. When the lake “turns over” the decaying organics at the bottom of the lake are disturbed dispersing the organics throughout the lake and depending on where the lake’s intake is located, this can add to taste and odor issues.

Is the City of Houston working on fixing the issue?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: The design of the water treatment plants included dealing with taste and odor. The use of an activated carbon filter can address this, however – taste and odor are subjective. Treatment levels have to be weighed against cost effectiveness because for surface waters you will never totally remove taste and odor.

Is there anything that can be done to fix the issue?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: It will have to play out.

How long will it take before the issue is corrected?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: It really just depends on weather and demand.

If the cause is actually an algae bloom, what caused it?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: Excessive nitrates and sulfates added to the system.. With all the rain we have been having and in the spring people fertilize their yards – it rains – it runs off – gotta go somewhere.

Has Houston had issues with algae blooms affecting the water supply before?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: Yes.

Can blooms like this be prevented in the future?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: No.

Where are the current water sources located?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: The City of Houston gets water supply from two sources; Lake Houston and groundwater wells.

Is the algae bloom an issue in just one source? Or all of them?
Jennifer Elms, P.E.: Algae are only issues with surface water, but groundwater can have issues also.

 

Written By: Jim Russ
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Jim Russ is Principal and Executive Vice President of EHRA Engineering

A Look at Downtown Houston’s Historic Bridges

As the City’s 2nd oldest civil engineering firm, EHRA Engineering’s Transportation & Structures Departments have designed countless road and bridge projects within the Houston region for over 77 years. Having such an established and tenured relationship with Houston’s infrastructure, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the City’s nationally registered historical bridges.

Houston’s historical bridges are monuments to the local culture that built them. With that in mind, lets take a closer look at a few of Houston’s nationally registered historic bridges:

Hill Street Bridge

Also known as “Jensen Drive Bridge” over Buffalo Bayou S. Jensen Dr. at Buffalo Bayou, Houston (GPS Coordinates: 29°45′40″N 95°20′36″W)

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Hill Street Bridge spans Buffalo Bayou

The four-lane Hill Street Bridge is over 450 ft. in length and spans approximately 140 ft. over the Buffalo Bayou at Jensen Drive. The bridge which was originally built in 1938 by Russ Mitchell, Inc., features a haunched steel stringer construction. The bridge is still in service today and handles approximately 10,900 in average daily traffic.

Quick Facts:

  • Built in 1938
  • Was listed on the national register of historic places in Texas in October of 2007.
  • Built by: Russ Mitchell, Inc.

McKee Street Bridge
Located at McKee St. and Buffalo Bayou, Houston (GPS Coordinates: 29°45′57″N 95°21′7″W)

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Historic McKee Street Bridge

The four-lane, 290 ft. long McKee Street Bridge spans the Buffalo Bayou, and features a rather unique reinforced concrete through-girder design. The unique bridge design was a direct result of the challenge to create a bridge that could not only accommodate small watercraft navigating the bayou, but also adapt to the sharp angle of the bayou. The bridge was originally built in 1932 for a price tag of approximately $120,000 (using money set aside from a 1929 bridge bond issue). When it was constructed, the McKee Street Bridge was widely considered to have the longest main of its type in the nation and actually appeared in multiple engineering publications.

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Original Drawings of the McKee Street Bridge

The bridge was designed by city bridge engineer Joseph Gordon McKenzie, and built by general contractor Don Hall Constructors Inc . This unique historically significant bridge is the only known example of a reinforced concrete through-girder design in the state of Texas.

Quick Facts:

  • Built in 1932
  • Was listed on the national register of historic places in Texas in September of 2002.
  • Engineer: Joesph Gordon McKenzie.
  • Builder: Don Hall Constructors Inc.
  • Architectural Style: Modern

Sabine Street Bridge
Sabine St. at Buffalo Bayou, Houston (GPS Coordinates: 29°45′40.75″N 95°22′31.5″W)

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Sabine Street Bridge


The two-lane Sabine Street Bridge is 240 ft. in length and spans 40 ft. over the Buffalo Bayou. There was a footbridge across Buffalo Bayou near Sabine Street as early as 1891, which connect the historic Fourth Ward to the Sixth Ward. However the Sabine Street Bridge as we know it today was actually built in 1924. The bridge was designed by city bridge engineer W. W. Washburn and features a concrete tee beam construction. The bridge is still in service today and handles approximately 1,090 in average daily traffic. The Sabine Street Bridge is the last remaining concrete bridge remaining from the City of Houston’s 1920 civic improvement program.

Quick Facts:

  • Year Built: 1924
  • Was listed on the national register of historic places in Texas in September 2007.
  • Engineer: W.W. Washburn

San Jacinto Street Bridge
San Jacinto St. at Buffalo Bayou, Houston (GPS Coordinates: 29°45′47.75″N 95°21′27″W)

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San Jacinto Street Bridge

The four-lane San Jacinto Street Bridge features a concrete arch bridge that has a total length of over 320 ft. and spans approximately 110 ft. over the Buffalo Bayou. The bridge is a great example of an open spandrel barrel arch. The bridge which was originally built in 1914 was recently rehabilitated in 1996. The bridge is still in service today and handles approximately 6,600 in average daily traffic.

Quick Facts:

  • Year Built: 1914
  • Was listed on the national register of historic places in Texas in October of 2007

For additional information and more historical bridges in the Houston area, check out:

Written By: Jim Russ
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Jim Russ is Principal and Executive Vice President of EHRA Engineering

The City of Houston is Getting New Hike & Bike Trails and Energy Efficient LED Streetlights

The City of Houston received a double dose of good news late last week. With the help of CenterPoint, the City of Houston will be converting approximately 165,000 streetlights from the traditional high pressure sodium, mercury vapor, and metal halide – to more energy efficient LED technology.

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LED Street Light

Not only will this be the largest project of its kind in the U.S., the move will also save the city an estimated $28 million over the next 10 years and will reduce the City’s streetlight energy usage by approximately 50%. Several cities have already transitioned to the LED technology including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Ashville, North Carolina. According to Houston’s Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian, the City of Houston’s staff has already consulted with the officials from these cities for support moving forward.

“In addition to being good for the planet, if we can cut energy consumption it’s also really good for the City’s bottom line,” said Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker.

While CenterPoint President and CEO Scott Prochazka added, “The City of Houston continues to be a leader among U.S. cities when it comes to energy efficiency.”

In addition to the new LED streetlights, the City has reached an agreement that will allow hiking and biking trails along CenterPoint’s utility right-of-ways. The usage of these utility right-of-ways will help to greatly expand the City’s rapidly growing network of hiking and biking trails.

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Utility Right-of-Ways

There are over 900 miles of CenterPoint right-of-way within Harris County and approximately 410 miles within the City of Houston. It is estimated that approximately 140 miles of right-of-way sit directly under electrical transmission lines which happen to be the most logical place for the new trails. Most of the City’s current hike & bike trails follow the City’s Bayous, which primarily run east to west, while there are very few hike & bike trails that currently run north to south. Fortunately, most of the existing right-of-ways run north to South. Once the new north to south running right-of-way trails are combined with the existing east to west bayou trails, the city will have a massive network of interconnecting hiking and biking trails. Director of Harris County Housing Authority and avid bicycle supporter Tom McCasland puts it, “A freeway system for bicycles that connects the bayou trails and gives you a grid of trails. Where you’re able to get off and go to the side streets as opposed to the thoroughfares where vehicles are 45 miles per hour plus.”

“We also have a lot of miles of bayou trails to install, but this allows us to make a more complete system” said Mayor Parker.

After making the announcement, CenterPoint committed $1.5 million towards the first leg of the trails project for a yet to be determined site. The ability for the City to use the utility right-of-ways for recreational use was years in the making. Bills were initially filed to use the utility right-of-ways for recreational use as early as 2007 but plans were hindered once questions arose over how much liability would fall on CenterPoint. However, a compromise was finally reached last year. Under the new agreement the utility is only liable for injury or death caused by its own “willful or wanton acts or gross negligence” and the City of Houston would end up paying the utility’s legal bills if lawsuits are filed.

“Our partnership with CenterPoint will reduce Houston’s carbon footprint, increase the quality of outdoor lighting, improve connections in our burgeoning hike and bike trail system and improve the quality of life and safety of residents – all while saving the City money,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “These are big wins for Houston.”

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Houston Hike & Bike Trail

This news is especially, significant for EHRA Engineering because it means that two new trail segments can be built along Houston’s waterways in two utility districts: West Harris County MUD No. 9 and Northwest Harris County MUD No. 6. As one of our associates in the landscape architecture department, Adrienne Bottoms put it, “This agreement has been long awaited, and our districts are excited to move forward.” Katie Golzarri, EHRA’s Landscape Architecture Department Manager, also said that for one of EHRA’s utility districts, this agreement means they are able to construct the final trail segment that will connect all of the existing trails that have been constructed for the neighborhood, and residents are anxious to get started. These two trail systems will be implemented along White Oak Bayou and Greens Bayou.

Big wins for Houston indeed.

For Additional information:
Mayor Anise Parker’s Official press release: http://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/press/20140530.html

 

Written By: Jim Russ
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Top 10 Most Impressive Houston Area Civil Engineering Projects

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As one of Houston’s oldest civil engineering firms, we at EHRA Engineering thought that it would be fun to put together a list of some of Houston’s most impressive civil engineering projects.

10.) Rice Stadium

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Rice Stadium

Rice Stadium was really ahead of its time as far as seating capacity and design, the stadium holds approx. 70,000 and features a modern design. Rice Stadium replaced Rice Field in 1950, and was actually subsidized by the City of Houston. The stadium has played host to several historical events including a famous JFK speech in 1962, and Super Bowl VIII.

9.) Reliant Stadium

NRG Stadium, Reliant Stadium, Top 10 Houston Engineering Feats, Civil Engineering Feats, Houston civil engineering

Reliant Stadium (NRG Stadium)

Reliant Stadium (Now know as NRG stadium) which opened in 2002, is one of the few stadiums that can actually make the Astrodome look small. The 1.9 million square foot facility was the first NFL stadium to feature a retractable roof. From the beginning Reliant stadium presented several interesting engineering challenges, including a natural grass playing surface within an enclosed stadium. This challenge was solved by bringing in interlocking natural grass trays. There have been several retractable roof stadiums built in the NFL since Reliant was constructed and each one has improved upon Reliant Stadium’s initial design, so in that respect Reliant Stadium served more as a proof of concept.

8.) Williams Tower

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Williams Tower

The Williams Tower, or the “Transco Tower” (as it was originally called) is a massive 64-story building located in uptown, near the Houston Galleria. Construction of the Williams tower was completed in 1982, and is one of the City of Houston’s most recognizable structures. Measuring a whopping 901 feet, the Williams Tower is the fourth tallest building in Texas, the 140th tallest building in the world, and is also considered the tallest skyscraper outside of a central business district (suburban area).

7.) The Houston Galleria

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Houston Galleria

The Houston Galleria, is the largest shopping mall in the state of Texas, the 8th largest mall in the U.S., and probably the top tourist destination in Houston. The Galleria was originally the brainchild of famous oilman Glenn McCarthy in the 1940’s and later developed in the 1970’s by Gerald D. Hines. The Galleria is directly modeled after Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (located in Milan). The Galleria features an indoor skating rink, the “polar ice” (as it was originally called when it was built in 1970) was first ever ice skating rink to be built inside a shopping mall.

6.) Houston / Buffalo Bayou Waterworks aka “The Cistern”

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Houston City Waterworks aka “The Cistern”

Originally built in 1927, the “Cistern” was the City of Houston’s first underground drinking water reservoir. Reportedly, the Cistern provided several decades of service until it eventually sprung a leak that couldn’t be located or repaired. The massive, 87,500 sq. ft. underground site features hundreds of 25 ft. tall concrete columns. To really appreciate just how colossal this site is, check out the 3-D fly through video:

5.) San Jacinto Monument

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The San Jacinto Monument

The San Jacinto monument commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, the final battle of the Texas Revolution. The octagonal column monument stands over 560 feet tall, a little over 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument (but everything is bigger in Texas, right?) The San Jacinto monument is also considered the tallest column monument in the world, which definitely qualifies as an engineering feat in its own right. However, there is also a 220 ton 34 ft. star that sits atop the monument adding to the engineering difficulty. The San Jacinto Monument was designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1992.

4.) Fred Hartman Bridge

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The Fred Hartman Bridge

After the Houston Ship Channel was deepened to accommodate larger ships, the Baytown tunnel needed to be replaced. The answer was a suspension bridge, The Fred Hartman Bridge (also know as the Baytown Bridge) which spans the Houston Ship Channel. The bridge connects the cities of Baytown and LaPorte. Carrying over two miles of Highway 146, The Fred Hartman bridge is the longest cable stayed bridge in Texas.

3.) The Astrodome

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Houston Astrodome

Nicknamed “The Eight Wonder of the World”, the Houston Astrodome has been associated with engineering innovation since its inception. Not only was the Astrodome the world’s first multi-purpose domed sports stadium, it was also one of the first stadiums to utilize “ChemGrass” (artificial turf) which later became known as “Astroturf”. Although it has been in the news recently for its possible demolition, the Astrodome was at one time considered the crown jewel of sports stadiums. Originally completed in 1964, the Astrodome stands 18 stories tall, with the dome measuring approximately 700 ft. in diameter – A major engineering feat. The Astrodome is probably one of (if not the most) iconic structures in the Houston Area.

2.) Houston Ship Channel

Houston Ship Channel, Top 10 Houston Engineering Feats, Civil Engineering Houston

The Houston Ship Channel

The 50-mile Houston Ship Channel is a man-made port that expands from the Gulf of Mexico through Galveston Bay, the San Jacinto River, and ends just 4 miles east of Downtown Houston. The channel has been used to move ocean bound goods since around 1836. The original depth of the Houston Ship Channel was 25 ft. and it was eventually dredged to approximately 40 ft. to accommodate larger ships. The massive 25-mile Port of Houston complex, located within the Houston ship channel; ranks 1st in the United States in foreign waterborne tonnage and second in the U.S. in total tonnage. In 1987, the Houston Ship Channel was designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Houston Ship Channel is a very important part of the Houston economy, and definitely a top 10 engineering feat.

1.) Addicks and Barker Reservoirs

Addicks Reservior, Houston Flooding, Houston Flood Prevention, Highway 6, Addicks Dam

Addicks Reservoir Aerial

Both the Addicks and Barker reservoirs help to prevent downstream flooding of the Buffalo Bayou which ultimately prevents flooding in the City of Houston. The Addicks reservoir is located in between Barker Cypress and the Sam Houston Tollway just north of Interstate 10, and covers approximately 26,000 acres. The Barker reservoir is located just to the south of Interstate 10 and west of Highway 6 and covers approx. 320 acres. Prior to the construction of these reservoirs in the late 1930’s, flooding was a serious problem within the City of Houston. Here is a video of The Great Houston Flood of 1935 (which eventually led to the creation of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs) : The Great Houston Flood of 1935 / prior to the construction of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. It is estimated that the Addicks and Barker reservoirs help to prevent approximately $16 million in average annual flood damage.

For over 75 years EHRA Engineering has helped the city of Houston grow by delivering exceptional civil engineering services. With over 14 professional disciplines under one roof, EHRA Engineering provides precise, resourceful, and innovative solutions to our customers. As Houston’s second oldest civil engineering firm, EHRA Engineering has been around long enough to see most of these amazing Houston area engineering projects through the years. We Hope that you have enjoyed our list of Top 10 Most Impressive Houston Area Civil Engineering Projects. Did we miss anything? Join the discussion let us know what you think, please visit our social media links:

Written By: Jim Russ
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Simple Landscaping Ideas – from EHRA: Landscape Architecture

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Written By: Jim Russ

For simple landscaping ideas, the first place to start is to research plants that are native to your particular area. Look for native plants that can handle extreme temperature shifts better than other species. These species are generally more suited for your climate and will live and adjust to where you plant them easier. Also make sure you read up on how much water, fertilization, and sunlight each plant needs and place it in an appropriate location in your landscape. You can also make an additional step to take a soil sample and have it analyzed at a lab. Then you can add soil amendments to give your plants a better boost. This is especially recommended if your home is new construction. Soil for the foundation is often a good percentage of sand to create a structurally sound base for construction, and the native top soil is often removed. Amending the soil helps recreate the native soil environment for plants to flourish. When you are making your final plant selections, look for a variety of textures and colors and plant in multiples of three. This will create visual interest; you can also choose plants that welcome wildlife like butterflies and frogs. If you are re-creating your landscape with additional planting, reconsider before removing all mature shrubs and trees. Trees and large shrubs are very expensive to replace and add value to your home. Consider trimming the shrubs and trees. An arborist can help you with identifying, trimming, and fertilizing trees. To complete your landscape design, adding seasonal color annuals in groupings helps draw the eye to parts of your landscape that you want highlighted, such as near the entry.

Thanks to the EHRA Engineering: Landscape Architecture department for the great information.

For additional Information check out some of these additional resources:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/natives/
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/nativeshrubs/index.html
http://www.ohbaonline.org/
http://www.ehrainc.com

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An Engineering Legacy.

For over 75 years EHRA Engineering has helped the city of Houston grow by delivering exceptional civil engineering services.

For over 75 years EHRA Engineering has helped the city of Houston grow by delivering exceptional civil engineering services.

For over 75 years EHRA Engineering has helped the city of Houston grow by delivering exceptional civil engineering services. With over 14 professional disciplines under one roof, EHRA Engineering provides precise, resourceful, and innovative solutions to our customers.

Through countless design and construction projects, EHRA Engineering has continued to grow. EHRA Engineering is deeply committed to harboring successful client relationships, designing sound and responsible engineering plans, and delivering high expectations. EHRA Engineering provides valuable ideas and honest answers. EHRA listens to our clients completely and consider their needs first and foremost.

EHRA Engineering – An Engineering Legacy.

Written By: Jim Russ
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