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EPA Proposes to Deny Waiver for Ponce Wastewater Treatment Plant

Release Date: 11/10/2004
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(#04173) SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Continuing its efforts to safeguard water quality in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed to deny a Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) request for a waiver from secondary wastewater treatment for its Ponce Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. PRASA failed to make timely repairs of two leaks in the ocean outfall pipe for the Ponce plant. The pipe has been leaking since at least December 2001. One shallow and two deep water leaks were repaired, but PRASA has not been able to fix the remaining two deep water leaks within the time frame ordered by EPA. Because of the continuing leaks, PRASA has failed to demonstrate that the Ponce discharge meets the stringent requirements needed for a waiver from secondary treatment requirements. If the proposed waiver denial is finalized, after public comment, EPA will put PRASA on an enforceable schedule to upgrade the plant to secondary treatment level. EPA will also put PRASA on a schedule to complete the repairs on the remaining two leaks.

"EPA has given PRASA ample time and opportunity to repair the leaks in the Ponce outfall pipe," said EPA Regional Administrator, Jane M. Kenny. "As a result, Puerto Rico is not fully meeting its standards to protect water qualtiy."

The Ponce plant began using its deep water outfall pipe in October 1999. The pipe extends 18,800 feet into the deep waters of the Caribbean Sea. The end of the pipe is in approximately 400 feet of water.

EPA requires PRASA to regularly inspect its outfall pipe. During an outfall integrity inspection in December 2001, PRASA found leaks in the shallow and deep water sections of the pipe. The authority has fixed the shallow water leak . Two deep water leaks, at depths of 211 feet and 349 feet respectively, were repaired using a remote operated vehicle, which installed liners inside the pipe in the joints that were leaking. PRASA however, has failed to fix the other two deep water leaks, which are in approximately 260 and 386 feet of water.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, plants like the Ponce plant 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 all water quality standards to insure that marine life around the outfall where treated sewage is discharged is not harmed. In this case, Puerto Rico water quality standards are not being met fully.

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 Carolina plant, and to the Bayamon and Puerto Nuevo plants, which share a single ocean outfall pipe. The final waivers for the Arecibo and Aguadilla plants have been appealed to EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, and decisions are pending.

EPA is seeking public comment on its proposed decision to deny a waiver for Ponce and the associated secondary treatment permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Comments should be sent to Carl Soderberg, Director of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, U.S. EPA, 1492 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Suite 417, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00907-4127.