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EPA Proposes to Grant Waiver for Ponce Wastewater Treatment Plant

Release Date: 03/15/2006
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced its proposal to grant a waiver from secondary wastewater treatment requirements to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) for its Ponce wastewater treatment plant. Under the Clean Water Act, facilities such as Ponce’s that discharge treated sewage directly into the ocean were given the opportunity to apply for waivers from secondary treatment. Waivers are granted only if certain stringent requirements are met including compliance with water quality standards to ensure that aquatic life is not harmed. In this case, environmental monitoring shows that marine life is protected and water quality standards are being fully met.

“We are committed to a constructive partnership with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect water quality,” said Alan J. Steinberg, Regional Administrator. “ After careful monitoring, we are satisfied that PRASA has done the repair work we required and that discharges from the plant have no negative impact on water quality.”

The plant discharges into the Caribbean sea through an outfall pipe about 18,800 feet offshore at a depth of 400 feet. EPA had previously proposed a denial of the waiver application for the Ponce plant due to concerns about the outfall pipe. The Ponce outfall pipe had been leaking into shallow and deep water. Because some of these leaks were in very deep water, they were difficult to fix. The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board approved PRASA’s request to consider one deep-water leak as an authorized discharge point within the designated mixing zone, an area where the discharge mixes with ocean water. The remaining leak was successfully repaired on June 6, 2005. PRASA has now demonstrated compliance with the Clean Water Act. The EPA proposal would require the plant to continue monitoring and providing advanced primary treatment.

EPA is seeking public comment on its proposed wastewater discharge permit and the associated decision to approve a waiver for Ponce. Public comments should be sent to Carl Soderberg, Director of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, U.S. EPA, 1492 Ponce DeLeon Avenue, Suite 417, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907-4127. The Agency will take public comments on its proposal for forty-five days after public notice is given.

PRASA applied for waivers from secondary treatment requirements for thirteen plants. EPA denied the waiver requests for two plants, Barceloneta and Mayaguez, because
they failed to meet Clean Water Act requirements and had the potential to cause environmental harm. PRASA withdrew waiver requests for Guayama, Fajardo, Humacao, Guayanilla and Dorado (which is not yet built) when it became apparent that EPA would deny those requests because they would be unable to meet requirements.
Currently, there are six active wastewater treatment plants in Puerto Rico eligible for waivers from secondary treatment requirements. EPA granted final waivers to the Aguadilla, Arecibo, Carolina plants, and to the Bayamon and Puerto Nuevo plants, which share a single ocean outfall pipe. The Ponce plant is the last plant for which EPA is proposing a waiver.

To learn more about waivers for wastewater treatment plants, visit: http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/regulatory/sect301hwaivers.html

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