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PRASA to Pay $1 Million Fine and Fund Drinking Water Improvements in Low-Income Communities; U.S. Reaches Agreement with Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority to End Illegal Discharges of Raw Sewage

Release Date: 03/19/2003
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(#03020) WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) of charges the company unlawfully discharged untreated sewage into the environment of Puerto Rico and violated pollutant discharge permits issued by EPA under the Clean Water Act. The consent decree was lodged on Thursday, March 13 with the Federal District Court in San Juan.

In February 2002, the government alleged that PRASA had and continued to discharge raw sewage and other pollutants into navigable waters from 471 pump stations throughout the island of Puerto Rico, and that it had failed to properly operate and maintain the pump stations, among other violations. These discharges, which are intermittent and ongoing, pose serious threats to human health and the environment.

"This settlement reflects the government's commitment to enforce the nation's environmental laws and, wherever possible, to work with municipalities and local agencies to resolve legal disputes cooperatively and in the best interests of the public," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "As the operation and maintenance plan is phased in, the parties are confident that the discharges of raw sewage from PRASA's pump stations should diminish considerably."

"We believe that this far-reaching agreement puts PRASA on the right track to reducing the threat raw sewage poses to people and the environment,"said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "Puerto Rico's water bodies and beaches play an enormous role in its economy. To protect this resource, PRASA has agreed to make sweeping changes in the operation of its pump stations, which are one of the largest sources of raw sewage discharges in the Commonwealth."

The consent decree requires PRASA and the current operator of its aqueducts and sewers, ONDEO de Puerto Rico, Inc., to complete construction and take other remedial actions to eliminate long-standing noncompliance at 185 sewage pump stations. PRASA estimates that the cost of these repairs will be approximately $8 million. The companies must also develop and implement a comprehensive plan for the operation and maintenance of PRASA's entire system of more than 600 pump stations, and implement a system-wide spill response and cleanup plan. EPA has estimated the value of these required projects at over $300 million. PRASA and its former operator, defendant Compa¤ia de Aguas de Puerto Rico, will also pay a $1 million civil penalty for their past violations of the Clean Water Act.

In addition, PRASA has agreed to spend $1 million on a supplemental environmental project that will help low-income, rural communities improve the quality of their drinking water. These communities, which presently are not hooked up to PRASA filtration systems and derive their drinking water from surface sources like ponds and rivers, may be exposed to dangerous waterborne diseases due to the lack of appropriate water disinfection. Over 100,000 residents of Puerto Rico are served by non-PRASA systems. Many of them will benefit from the PRASA supplemental project.

A notice of the settlement agreement will be published in the Federal Register. The agreement will then be subject to a 30-day public comment period.