In landmark enforcement actions, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has agreed to pay $10 million in criminal and civil fines and committed to perform more than $1.7 billion in injunctive relief to resolve repeated environmental violations at wastewater treatment plants and drinking water treatment plants throughout the Commonwealth. Today’s actions are the result of the utility’s agreement to plead guilty to 15 felony violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) affecting the island’s nine largest wastewater and five of its drinking water treatment facilities, and enter into a civil agreement requiring the company to implement significant remedial measures at all of its 61 wastewater treatment plants and related collection systems over the next 15 years.
The Criminal Plea Agreement
PRASA has agreed to plead guilty to a 15-count indictment relating to its role, as owner and operator, and its conduct in the operation and management of the wastewater and drinking water treatment systems in Puerto Rico. Specifically, PRASA admits to violating the CWA through the illegal discharge of pollutants in violation of its permits.
The indictment alleges that PRASA illegally discharged pollutants at its wastewater facilities in Bayamón, Caguas, Camuy-Hatillo, Carolina, Dorado, Isabela, Puerto Nuevo, Santa Isabel and Vega Baja and drinking water facilities in El Yunque, Enrique Ortega,Guaynabo, Canóvanas and Sergio Cuevas. The indictment also charges PRASA with a direct discharge of a pollutant from a point source into the Martin PeZa Channel, a water of the United States, without a permit.
Under the terms of the criminal plea agreement, PRASA will:
-Pay a $9 million fine; -Construct and complete capital improvements to replace, repair and upgrade the collection and wastewater treatment system in the Ponce de Leon Avenue area of San Juan for a cost of not less than $10 million to remedy and prevent direct discharges to the Martin PeZa Channel;
-Complete other capital improvements and upgrades at the nine waste water treatment plants identified in the indictment for a cost of not less than $109 million;
-Fund a study of the operations at the five drinking water facilities to determine the appropriate remedial actions; and
-Serve a five-year-term of probation.
As a condition of PRASA’s probation, the utility will be required to fully comply with the requirements of the civil consent decree. The civil consent decree lays out a comprehensive plan for PRASA’s future compliance with the CWA at its 61 wastewater treatment plants and requires PRASA to spend in excess of $1.7 billion over the course of the next 15 years on capital improvement projects and other remedial measures.
The Civil Settlement
To comply with the settlement, PRASA will complete a total of 145 capital improvement projects (CIPs), including 32 short-term projects to be completed within the first six months of the settlement and 50 mid-term remedial projects to be completed within 12-24 months of entry of the settlement. These projects are estimated to cost a combined total of $11.8 million over two years. Both waves of proposed projects include the following types of remedial measures:
-Installing dechlorination equipment;
-Installing flow proportional chlorination equipment;
-Repairing and replacing equipment; and
-Implementing a chemical treatment program for phosphorous removal.
The remaining CIPS are long-term projects, implementation of which is divided into three terms.
-During the first term, PRASA will complete 20 CIPs, all of which will be completed by June 1, 2011, at an approximate cost of $316.3 million.
-The second term of 24 projects will be completed by June 1, 2016, at an estimated cost of $275.6 million.
-During the final term, PRASA will complete 19 CIPs within by June 1, 2021, at an estimated cost of $323.3 million.
-The projects will include, but are not limited to: retrofitting existing facilities to achieve phosphorus removal and increasing treatment capacity; constructing sewer lines to divert flow to another waste water treatment plants to eliminate current facility; and installing flow proportional chlorination equipment.
-All of the remedial measures to be conducted over the next 15 years are estimated to cost over $927 million.
To ensure proper maintenance and operation in the future of its wastewater treatment plants, the settlement also requires PRASA to submit to the EPA an Integrated Preventative Maintenance Program (IPMP). Once approved, the IPMP will be implemented and will include the following key components: record keeping; maintenance planning and scheduling; purchasing procedures and an inventory system; and maintenance personnel training and organization.
PRASA must also submit a Spill Response and Cleanup Plan for EPA approval, specifying response actions in the case of sanitary sewer overflows at all of PRASA’s 61 facilities. PRASA must additionally develop and implement a Sanitary Sewer Evaluation Plan and Rehabilitation Plan for seven collection systems, and develop a Preliminary Sewer System Evaluation Plan for all the remaining collection systems on the island.