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City hopes to correct high e-coli level in Waller Creek by adding restrooms

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There are big plans for Waller Creek in Austin's entertainment district. Currently, some people only see it as a public toilet. City leaders are hoping to fix that problem with a pretty simple solution.

Last week, city leaders approved a design plan for Waller Creek. The banks would be converted into a chain of well-maintained parks connected by hike and bike trails and bridges. Some of the concept images show children playing near the water.

Right now, that's hard for some to imagine.

"I don't know how they're going to fix that. It may be a pipe dream," said Sabrina Matthews.

"Pretty much just looks like an open sewer," said Ken Hagler.

It doesn't just look nasty the water is actually full of fecal matter.

"There definitely is some human direct deposition of waste going on here in and around Waller Creek. In addition to some potentially leaking waste water infrastructure," said Chris Herrington, engineer with City of Austin Watershed Protection Department.

E-coli bacteria are measured in colonies per 100 milliliters of water. The standard is 126. A sample taken from Waller Creek by the Austin Convention Center, measured at 1,015.

The homeless often camp along the creek. They must go somewhere and there is plenty of evidence under the tunnels to show they do. To fix the problem, city leaders are looking to add restrooms as part of the new development project.

"There's a wide range from either stand-alone rugged, durable, utilitarian facility to something that's much nicer, maintained by a human being continuously while it's open," Herrington said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must give approval. That is expected to occur by next summer. City leaders hope to have the restrooms in place within the next five years.

Waller Creek is actually number two when it comes to the highest e-coli level. Johnson Creek west of MoPac is number one. Herrington says the problem at Johnson Creek has been corrected.

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