Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority will spend approximately $1.5 billion to make necessary improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure
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 islandwide.
The Puerto Nuevo sewer system serves the municipalities of San Juan, Trujillo Alto, and portions of Bayamón, Guaynabo and Carolina. The settlement updates and expands upon legal settlement agreements reached with PRASA in 2004, 2006 and 2010.
The improvements will supplement projects already being implemented under the previous settlements and PRASA’s Capital Improvement Program, which includes construction of necessary infrastructure at wastewater treatment plants and sludge treatment systems, as well as the Puerto Nuevo collection system.
“These upgrades are urgently needed to reduce the public’s exposure to serious health risks posed by untreated sewage,” says Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States has taken Puerto Rico’s financial hardship into account by prioritizing the most critical projects first, and allowing a phased-in approach in other areas, but let me be clear that these requirements are necessary for the long-term health and safety of San Juan area residents.”
Under the agreement, PRASA will prioritize islandwide capital improvement projects and take into consideration the effect of each requirement on the population served.
In recognition of the financial conditions in Puerto Rico, the U.S. government waived the payment of civil penalties associated with violations alleged in the complaint filed today.
“This agreement will reduce the massive amount of untreated sewage and other pollutants that harm major waterways in the San Juan area, improving water quality and public health conditions for thousands of people,” says Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator.
PRASA’s violations include releases of untreated wastewater and other pollutants into waterways in the San Juan area including the San Juan Bay, Condado Lagoon, Martín Peña Canal and the Atlantic Ocean. These releases have been in violation of PRASA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and the Clean Water Act. PRASA also violated its NPDES permit by failing to report discharges in the Puerto Nuevo collection system and by failing to meet effluent limitations and operations and maintenance obligations at numerous facilities islandwide.
Under the agreement, PRASA will spend approximately $1.5 billion to make necessary improvements. PRASA will undertake a comprehensive operation and maintenance program in the Puerto Nuevo sanitary sewer system, including conducting a comprehensive analysis of the system to determine whether subsequent investments must be made to ensure the system is brought into legal compliance, and to conduct immediate repairs at specific areas of concern.
PRASA has also agreed to invest $120 million to construct sanitary sewers that will serve communities surrounding the Martín Peña Canal, a project that will benefit approximately 20,000 people. For decades, the Martín Peña communities have struggled with poverty and environmental degradation. This project, which will begin after other infrastructure improvements near the canal are completed, will greatly reduce the amount of untreated wastewater and other contaminants entering the canal.
The terms and conditions of the settlement announced Sept. 15, 2015, will update, replace and supersede the three existing consent decrees between the United States and PRASA. In recognition of PRASA’s financial challenges, many of the provisions of the agreement have been tailored to focus on the most critical problems first, giving more time to address the less critical problems over time. Additionally, certain projects required under the 2006 and 2010 agreements were found to no longer be necessary, as the population has declined, and they have been eliminated under this agreement.
The settlement, lodged today in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The settlement will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.