2002 News Releases
U.S. Files Complaint Against Guam Waterworks Authority
Release Date: 12/20/2002
Contact Information: Mike Ardito, U.S. EPA, 415-972-1081
For Violations of Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. The Justice Department with the United States Attorney in Guam and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency today filed a complaint against the Guam Waterworks Authority and the Government of Guam for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
Each of Guam Waterworks' wastewater treatment plants has a long history of failing to meet permit limits for pollutants discharged from the plants. Wastewater discharges have exceeded Guam's water quality standards, including standards for fecal bacteria. Guam Waterworks' wastewater collection and conveyance system is similarly run down, resulting in sewage spills throughout the system and bypasses of raw sewage at the treatment plants.
Guam Waterworks operates three public water systems to provide drinking water and several wastewater treatment plants to collect and treat sewage. The U.S. government is seeking a court order to ensure that island drinking water is safe and wastewater is adequately collected, treated and disposed.
In the past five years, over 600 million gallons of raw sewage has overflowed from pump stations and sewer lines, flowing onto streets and into bays, rivers and aquifers. These spills have caused weekly beach health advisories and fecal coliform contamination in drinking water wells.
Guam Waterworks' public water systems are also in a dilapidated condition. As a result of operational, technical and managerial problems, Guam Waterworks has frequently violated regulatory limits for both coliform bacteria levels and turbidity levels in its drinking water.
For example, due to frequent maintenance problems at its drinking water wells, Guam Waterworks is unable to maintain adequate water pressure in its drinking water distribution system, which can allow contaminants from the ground to enter into the distribution system. Moreover, Guam Waterworks' chlorinators are frequently out of service and can stop working without warning, allowing any sewage or other contaminants that enter the drinking water distribution system to flow untreated to Guam residences.
People can be exposed to diseases from organisms in untreated sewage or improperly treated wastewater. This exposure can occur while swimming or wading at contaminated beaches, or by using contaminated tap water for drinking, preparing food, washing dishes, or brushing teeth. Guam Waterworks' inadequate chlorination system further increases the public health risk by failing to control pathogens in the drinking water.
The U.S. EPA and Guam EPA have issued numerous wastewater and drinking water compliance orders since 1988. In August 2001, the U.S. EPA and Guam Waterworks agreed on steps to comply with wastewater regulations.
That order was followed by a financial plan that was initially approved by the governor, legislature, Guam Public Utilities Commission, and Guam Waterworks. However, the Government of Guam and Guam Waterworks have not met the conditions of the order and financial plan. Similarly, Guam Waterworks failed to comply with many terms of Guam EPA's administrative orders.
"We're very concerned about the deficiencies at the utility," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This utility's poor operating practices pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health."
Frederick Black, U.S. Attorney for the District of Guam said, "The people and environment of Guam are at serious risk. We will ask the court to take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the island."
"The damage left in the wake of Supertyphoon Pongsona adds even more urgency to the situation," said Wayne Nastri, the EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "The quickest way to provide long-term, reliable, safe drinking water is through the immediate filing of this complaint to compel Guam Waterworks to take advantage of technical expertise and needed resources which are currently available."
Nastri said, "Normally wells would be shut down the instant sewage contamination is detected. In Guam, the drinking water system is so dilapidated that the choice is either no water or contaminated water. This situation cannot continue as is, so we are asking the court to assist us in addressing it. Our goal is to bring permanent relief to the people of Guam."
The U.S. EPA began preparations to file this complaint prior to the two typhoons striking Guam this year. The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for Guam in Hagatna.