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Federal Government Settles Lawsuit Against PRASA; PRASA to Pay $550,000 Penalty; Undertake an Additional $490,600 in Environmental Projects

Release Date: 12/11/2000
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(#00220)San Juan, Puerto Rico – In an action that will address violations of federal laws at more than 40 drinking water plants or systems across the Island, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today filed a Consent Decree with the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) in federal court requiring the Authority to come into compliance, pay a $550,000 penalty and undertake nearly $500,000 in additional projects. The settlement for violations of the Clean Water Act at 23 drinking water plants and the Safe Drinking Water Act at 20 drinking water systems comes after EPA had issued numerous administrative orders to PRASA demanding that it bring the plants into compliance with federal law.

"After years of wrangling with PRASA to get them to comply, we now have a comprehensive settlement that will ensure that the problems are addressed," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. "I am particularly pleased that PRASA has agreed to connect two small unfiltered systems, not operated by PRASA, to the Roncador drinking water system, which is filtering. The nearly 700 people who get their water from these systems will now be provided with reliable and safe drinking water."

"I am pleased that PRASA will soon supply filtered water to numerous small communities in Puerto Rico, in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment Division at the Justice Department. "Because of this settlement, many of PRASA's drinking water treatment facilities are now on track to comply with the law, under an enforceable schedule."

Drinking water treatment systems must meet requirements of both the Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires systems to treat the water to meet federal drinking water standards, and the Clean Water Act, which requires the systems to meet certain limits in the wastewater that is discharges from the treatment plants, as a result of the treatment process.

Today’s agreement settles violations of the Clean Water Act at 23 drinking water plants. The plants were cited for violating their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which limit pollutants allowed in wastewater discharged from the plants. PRASA recently installed sludge treatment facilities at the 23 drinking water treatment plants that are subject to today’s settlement. PRASA may need to install additional equipment in order to comply with residual chlorine requirements and other pollutant parameters such as metals, phenolics, fluoride, cyanide and phosphorus. Under the agreement, PRASA must meet the residual chlorine requirements at all plants by June 30, 2003 and must meet all other parameters in its NPDES permits by dates ranging from April 30, 2002 to March 31, 2005.

Today’s settlement also covers violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act at 20 drinking water systems. Between 1993 and 1997, EPA issued orders to these PRASA-operated public drinking water systems requiring them to filter the drinking water that comes from surface water, such as lakes, streams and reservoirs, or connect these systems to water treatment plants that already do filter. Today’s settlement covers all 20 systems, which serve approximately 25,000 people. PRASA has already constructed filtration systems for several of the systems. Today’s settlement lays out a ten-month schedule for the systems that have not already complied to either install filtration systems, connect to plants with existing filtration systems, or construct groundwater wells.

In addition to paying a cash penalty, PRASA has agreed to spend $490,600 to connect two drinking water systems, Aqueducto Comunal and Saltos Caguana, to the Roncador drinking water distribution system, which is currently filtering its drinking water. The two non-PRASA systems serve about 680 people.

Today’s settlement also contains penalties stipulated in the event that PRASA misses any major milestones or requirements in the compliance schedule. These penalties range from $85 to $850 per day, depending on the violation. DOJ will take public comment on the settlement before submitting it to a federal judge for signature.