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Region 3 News Release
News Release
  • For Immediate Release: June 25, 2003
  • Partial Settlement Reached in Lawsuits as WASA Agrees to Steps to Reduce Sewage Overflow
    Contact: Roy Seneca 215-814-5567

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the United States and a coalition of citizen groups have reached a partial settlement of Clean Water Act litigation against the Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), launching an extensive program to reduce illegal discharges of untreated sewage into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek.

    In settlement papers filed today in federal court, WASA has agreed to take several interim measures to reduce illegal sewage overflows and other violations of the Clean Water Act. The settlement also requires WASA to pay a $250,000 penalty for past violations, and undertake or fund $2 million in storm water pollution prevention projects.

    Donald S. Welsh, administrator for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, said: “Today’s settlement represents an important step toward the goal of eliminating sewage overflows into the waterways of our nation’s capital. Overflows from sewer systems contaminate rivers and streams with bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants, which can seriously degrade water quality, kill aquatic life and threaten public health.”

    Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division, commented: “This settlement reflects our commitment to work with municipalities and local agencies to resolve legal disputes cooperatively and in the best interests of the public. We hope that WASA and the District of Columbia will continue to work with EPA and the Justice Department to resolve expeditiously the remaining issues in this case, and ensure the long-term protection of the district’s waters.”

    U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard, Jr. said: “This successful enforcement of federal environmental laws gives notice that the District of Columbia’s waterways must and will be protected. I commend the efforts of WASA and the government of the District of Columbia, thus far, to take meaningful steps to address some of the environmental issues raised by this ongoing litigation. Today’s partial settlement makes clear that the federal government will act to fully enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act, so that the quality of the environment is not put at risk.”

    The proposed consent decree – which is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval – resolves a portion of the lawsuits filed by a coalition of citizens groups in January 2000, and by the United States in December 2002. (The citizens groups, represented by the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, include the Anacostia Watershed Society, Kingman Park Civic Association, American Canoe Association, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and an individual, Mary Stuart Bick Ferguson). The lawsuits allege that WASA violated the Clean Water Act through its operation of its combined sewer system, which resulted in the discharge of untreated sewage into local waterways.

    Most of the wastewater from homes, offices and businesses in the District of Columbia is transported to the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant by a separate sanitary sewer system. However, about a third of the district is served by a combined sewer system, which transports storm water runoff, as well as sewage and other wastewater to the treatment plant. The capacity of the combined sewer system is often overwhelmed after major rains or snow melts, resulting in combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, of untreated sewage into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, and Rock Creek.

    WASA’s EPA-issued Clean Water Act permit prohibits or limits CSOs in accordance with strict EPA guidelines applicable to all municipalities with combined sewer systems.

    In the settlement announced today, WASA will take steps to limit CSOs by improving operation and maintenance, rehabilitating pumping stations, increasing sewage storage and flow capacity, working to prevent dry weather overflows, and upgrading pretreatment requirements for industrial discharges. The work required by this partial settlement is estimated to cost up to $150 million.

    In addition to the $250,000 penalty for prior violations, WASA has agreed to expend $1.7 million in “low impact development” projects at locations throughout the district. These projects will reduce storm water pollution through site designs (e.g., rain gardens, vegetative buffers, rain barrels and cisterns, increased tree cover) that store, infiltrate, evaporate and detain storm water.

    WASA will also fund a $300,000 “green roof demonstration project.” Green roofs are a storm water management tool -- usually consisting of a waterproof roofing material with a soil-and-vegetation cover – that captures and evaporates storm water, and reduces the runoff rate from roofs.

    As part of the settlement, WASA and the District of Columbia have neither admitted nor denied liability for the violations alleged in this lawsuit. Litigation is proceeding on other major issues in the Clean Water Act case, including the requirement for WASA to develop and implement comprehensive measures known as the long-term control plan. These measures are intended to bring WASA into full compliance with the Clean Water Act. For more information about federal, state and local efforts to reduce CSOs, visit http://www.epa.gov/npdes/cso