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EPA Grants Waiver to Aguadilla Wastewater Treatment Plant

Release Date: 03/06/2003
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(03018) San Juan, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it has granted a waiver that will allow the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) to provide advanced primary treatment of the wastewater that passes through its Aguadilla wastewater treatment plant, rather than the next level of treatment. EPA originally announced its intention to grant the waiver from secondary treatment at the Aguadilla plant in August 2000, held a public hearing and solicited public comments on the proposal. The agency has evaluated the comments it received, and has now moved forward with its final decision.

“After thoroughly reviewing the conditions at this wastewater treatment plant, we have determined that advanced primary treatment will protect both the residents and waters of Puerto Rico,”said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. “A major factor in our decision to take this action is the significant improvement over the past several years in PRASA’s operation of this and the other wastewater treatment plants for which PRASA is seeking waivers.”

The Aguadilla plant provides advanced primary treatment of incoming sewage before discharging the treated wastewater into the ocean. Basic primary treatment involves screening, grit removal, removing solid matter using gravity, and chlorine disinfection. Advanced primary treatment, which the Aguadilla plant provides, involves adding chemicals that increase the amount of solid matter removed. Secondary treatment, which usually occurs right after primary treatment, uses bacteria to break down and remove additional organic matter in the sewage.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, plants like Aguadilla’s that discharge treated sewage directly into the ocean were given the opportunity to apply for waivers from secondary treatment. If certain stringent requirements are met – including compliance with all water quality standards to insure that marine life around the outfall where treated sewage is discharged is not harmed – EPA can grant the waiver. In this case, EPA has granted the waiver after reviewing data that indicates that marine life will not be adversely impacted. EPA also considered the fact that the pipe that carries treated sewage from the plant to the ocean extends 2,450 feet off shore to a maximum depth of 57 feet. At this distance from the shore, the treated wastewater is quickly diluted with seawater, greatly reducing any potential impact it might have on the marine environment. An EPA permit containing the waiver will take effect 30 days after the agency provides notice of its decision to PRASA and to those people who submitted comments during the public comment period.

In addition to granting a final waiver for the Aguadilla plant, EPA has granted waivers to the Carolina and Arecibo plants, and to the Puerto Nuevo and Bayamon plants, which share a single discharge pipeline to the ocean. EPA denied requests for waivers from secondary treatment for the Mayaguez and Barceloneta plants, and PRASA withdrew waiver requests for the Fajardo, Humacao, Guayama, Guayanilla and Dorado wastewater treatment plants because they would not have met EPA’s criteria for a waiver. EPA is still considering whether to grant a waiver to the Ponce wastewater treatment plant.