City hopes netting will cut bird deaths, poop at sludge plant

This one’s for the birds.

After years of wear, the ripped netting that surrounds Houston’s largest wastewater treatment facility allows hundreds of birds each month to fly to grisly deaths inside sewage mixers, centrifuges and high-temperature dryers that stretch four-stories high.

The city hopes a simple upgrade will help.

City Council on Wednesday agreed to spend $85,285 to replace the netting and vinyl doors that enclose the otherwise open-air sewage refinery at the edge of Denver Harbor, on Houston’s east side.

During an afternoon walk-through, assistant operations manager Pedro Munive spotted what appeared to be a pigeon beak-down on a sheet of corrugated metal.

“That one there is pretty fresh,” he said.

A few paces away, a spray of white and gray feathers.

“Got caught up in one of the centrifuges?” Munive said. “It’s hard to say.”

The 69th Street Wastewater Treatment Plant is the largest of Houston’s 39 wastewater facilities and receives most of the city’s sewage. After separating the solids from the liquid, the city sends the sludge, as it’s called, to a 35,000-square-foot building where it’s converted into fertilizer to be sold.

Sometimes, Munive said, the birds pick at the sludge as it travels along a conveyer belt to one of the plant’s many mixers. If they enter a mixer with the sludge, they suffocate or get chopped up by the mixer’s blade. Other times, they’rejusta nuisance, pooping on the concrete floor and workers’ hard hats. In the worst-case scenario, a fried bird could damage plant equipment.

Day-to-day, though, the new netting is mostly about the birds.

“It wouldn’t change my life,” Munive said. “It would change the birds’ lives. Because they won’t be dead.”