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EPA Fines Board of Caguas Community for Not Treating Drinking Water

Release Date: 06/02/2003
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(#03061) San Juan, P.R. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that is seeking a $5,000 penalty from the four members of the board of directors of Fincas Mi Recreo, a town in Caguas, Puerto Rico that owns and operates its own drinking water system, for not filtering and disinfecting the drinking water they supply to residents. The penalty against Víctor Manuel Fernandez Ramos, Víctor Roberto Fernandez Ramos, Víctor Jose Fernandez Ramos and Carmen Aurea Fernandez Ramos comes after repeated efforts by EPA to help Fincas Mi Recreo develop and operate a successful drinking water filtration and disinfection program.

"We understand the challenges that some communities face in upgrading their drinking water systems, but EPA has provided financial incentives and technical assistance to Fincas Mi Recreo and it still has not complied," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "All residents of Puerto Rico have the right to safe drinking water. It is our job to ensure they get it."

In September 2002, EPA filed an initial complaint seeking a $1,000 penalty from Fincas Mi Recreo's board of directors for failing to comply with the federal Surface Water Treatment Rule. Under the rule, all drinking water taken from surface sources like reservoirs and streams must be filtered and disinfected to remov microbial contaminants such as coliforms, Cryptosporidium and Giardia. These microbes can cause serious health effects in people if ingested, and may enter surface water from surrounding areas after it rains, especially in communities with livestock farms and where human and animal waste has been inadequately treated. Proper filtration and disinfection of a drinking water supply can greatly reduce the threat of illness due to microbe- contaminated water.

Since 1995, EPA has tried to work with the community to bring its drinking water system into compliance with the rule; Fincas Mi Recreo continually failed to make several required improvements and to provide the proper maintenance its drinking water system requires. Since Fincas Mi Recreo and its directors have ignored their obligations under the rule, EPA has amended its original complaint and raised the penalty to $5,000.

EPA conducted inspections in the 120-resident community in September 1994, after receiving a complaint from a member of the public about the quality of Fincas Mi Recreo's drinking water. The Agency issued an order in December 1994 that established an action plan for the community to achieve compliance with filtration and disinfection rules. The board of the community was given three years, technical guidance and financial assistance to complete the work in the plan. But Fincas Mi Recreo did not install the necessary filtration systemsand disinfection equipment, resulting in the initial $1,000 penalty.

There are over 230 small, rural and privately-owned community public water systems in Puerto Rico today, serving between 28 and 3,000 people. They are not run by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). Approximately 100,000 people rely on these systems, which are mostly owned and operated by the communities they serve.

EPA has a special compliance and enforcement program to ensure that all non-PRASA surface water systems in Puerto Rico are disinfecting and filtering their water. In addition to EPA's program of providing technical assistance and education to non-PRASA communities, since 1998, the Puerto Rico Department of Health has received more than $55 million in federal capitalization grants for drinking water infrastructure improvements in such communities throughout the island.

Where necessary, EPA has taken enforcement actions against PRASA and non-PRASA systems to reduce violations of health-based drinking water standards. The Agency announced in January that it was seeking $500 penalties from seven other non-PRASA communities for not treating their drinking water. Those communities were given a chance to comply with the federal requirements and have their penalty revoked. All but Fincas Mi Recreo responded to EPA's request. In March, EPA announced that in a settlement to end discharges of untreated sewage waste, PRASA would spend $1 million to help low-income, rural non-PRASA communities improve the quality of their drinking water. EPA expects that this combination of enforcement penalties and financial and technical assistance will bring all non-PRASA communities into compliance with safe drinking water regulations in the very near future.