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Enforcement

Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, et al. Clean Water Act Settlement

(Washington, DC – September 15, 2015)  Under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has agreed to make major upgrades, improve inspections and cleaning of existing facilities within the Puerto Nuevo system and continue improvements to its systems island-wide.

Overview of Respondent

PRASA is the only public corporation to administer the aqueduct and sewer system of Puerto Rico. PRASA encompasses a 3,535 square mile service area that includes varied topography, isolated demographic distributions, and a diverse mix of users.

Violations

The filed complaint alleges that PRASA violated the terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and Section 301 of the Clean Water Act. Specifically PRASA:

  • Discharged pollutants in excess of the effluent limits contained in the NPDES permits from PRASA’s facilities;
  • Failed to comply with operation and maintenance provisions of its NPDES permit at wastewater treatment plants and report such violations;
  • Failed to report unauthorized discharges as required by its NPDES permit;
  • Failed to eliminate unauthorized, illegal and persistent discharges of pollutants, including raw sewage, from the Puerto Nuevo sewer system.

In addition, the filed complaint alleges that the overflows from PRASA’s collection system present an imminent and substantial endangerment to persons who come into contact with discharged waters contaminated with raw sewage.

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Injunctive Relief 

PRASA estimates that it will spend approximately $1.5 billion implementing various injunctive relief measures to come into compliance. The proposed settlement requires PRASA to complete a number of measures: 

  • PRASA must construct a sludge treatment system and install alternative power units at new water treatment plants complying with all permitting and sludge disposal requirements, including record keeping. Also, PRASA must install and operate flow meter devices and high level indicators at all water treatment plants, and take monthly and daily samples of discharges from unpermitted sludge treatment system or from new sludge treatment system at water treatment plants that do not have a final NPDES permit.
  • PRASA must comply with the NPDES permit from the Puerto Nuevo Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, submit a plan to assess the condition of the sewers from the Puerto Nuevo sewer system, and submit a report and action plan to address specific concerns in areas identified by EPA within the Puerto Nuevo sewer system.
  • PRASA must submit and implement an operation and maintenance program for the Puerto Nuevo sewer system that includes a reconnaissance and cleaning element, and a prevention control program for sanitary sewer overflows, dry weather overflows and unauthorized releases, as well as revise and implement its current fats, oil, and grease control program. 
  • PRASA must prepare and submit revised maps of the Puerto Nuevo sewer system using computer-aided methods, including sewers from the Barriada Figueroa area. PRASA must also submit a report on findings, necessary repairs, and needed construction for proper operation of sewers from the Barriada Figueroa area.
  • PRASA must comply with all NPDES permits from water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants, including all interim limitations, operate and maintain all sludge treatment system at water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants and pump stations in accordance with the Integrated Maintenance Program, including development of a Corrosion Control Plan, and implement remedial measures for accurate flow measurement at wastewater treatment plants.
  • PRASA must submit an infiltration/inflow assessment report from all PRASA’s sewer systems, and implement a spill response and cleanup plan to address combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows and unauthorized releases from all PRASA’s facilities. PRASA must also notify EPA of proposed material changes to PRASA’s sewer connection policy.
  • PRASA must implement management practices that allow broader EPA’s oversight on PRASA’s expenditures of capital improvement projects, including annual submission of financial information. PRASA must also implement specific practices to improve PRASA’s treatment process control system.
  • PRASA must institute training requirements for new sludge treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant operators and personnel responsible for implementation of PRASA’s treatment process control system.
  • PRASA must construct sanitary sewers that will serve communities surrounding the Martín Peña Canal after other infrastructure improvements near the canal are completed.

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) – TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) – BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.
  • Nutrients – Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. These blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.
  • Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) – COD is a measure of the capacity of water to consume oxygen during the decomposition of organic matter and the oxidation of inorganic chemical.
  • Pathogens in raw sewage – Pathogens in raw sewage can contaminate ecological systems in addition to sickening humans and animals. Raw sewage typically contains viruses and bacteria as well as health-harming microorganisms.

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Pollutant Reductions

The injunctive relief will result in reduction of pollutant loadings for BOD, COD, total nitrogen, total phosphorous, and TSS, into the Caño Marin Peña, the Condado Lagoon, the Puerto Nuevo River, the Rio Piedras River and the San Juan Bay. The injunctive relief required to be implemented island-wide at the wastewater treatment plants and sludge treatment systems will prevent more than 7,500,000 pounds of BOD and 5,000,000 pounds of TSS from entering the receiving waters each year. Regarding PRASA’s Puerto Nuevo Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, it is estimated that the injunctive relief will prevent more than 2,276,169 pounds of TSS, 2,178,793 pounds of BOD, 5,453,068 pounds of COD, 353,597 pounds of total nitrogen and 50,514 pounds of total phosphorous from entering the receiving waters each year.

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Civil Penalty

The penalty for this settlement has been waived due to documented financial hardship currently facing PRASA and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice (DOJ) website.

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For more information, contact:

Clarke Thurmon
Water Enforcement Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, MC 2242A
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-5587
thurmon.clarke@epa.gov

Paul Fericelli
Water Enforcement Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, MC 2242A
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-3397
fericelli.paul@epa.gov

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