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Monday, August 17, 2015

Pennsylvania Water Utility to Reduce Sewage Discharges to Delaware River and Local Creeks

The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) resolving alleged Clean Water Act violations involving combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to the Delaware River and its tributaries.  In a proposed consent decree, DELCORA has agreed to develop and implement a plan to control and significantly reduce overflows from its sewer system, which will improve the water quality of the Delaware River, Chester Creek and Ridley Creek near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.                                                                                      

Based on information submitted by DELCORA, EPA estimates that the Authority could spend as much as $200 million to implement an overflow control plan that complies with the terms of the Clean Water Act.  Once the specific pollution control measures are selected and approved, the settlement requires DELCORA to implement the plan as quickly as possible, with a 20-year deadline from when the settlement is filed in court to complete the necessary controls.  DELCORA must also pay a $1.375 million penalty for prior violations, which will be split between the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a co-plaintiff in this case.

“This important agreement will protect residents from sewers that discharge raw sewage and other contaminants into local waterways,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “It is the latest in a series of settlements with municipalities across the country to address aging and inadequate sewer infrastructure, particularly in older communities where residents have had to deal with sewer overflows for generations.  Agreements like this one are a victory for environmental justice.”

“This settlement means cleaner water for communities in the greater Philadelphia area, including many that have historically been overburdened by water pollution,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “These communities have demonstrated how effective long-term planning and public participation can protect clean water in a way that’s achievable and cost effective.”

The settlement stands to address longstanding problems with DELCORA’s combined sewer system, which when inundated with stormwater, discharges raw sewage, industrial waste, nitrogen, phosphorus and polluted stormwater into Chester Creek, Ridley Creek and the Delaware River.  According to DELCORA, the volume of combined sewage that overflows from the system is approximately 739 million gallons annually. 

Exposure to raw sewage can cause a range of illness from mild gastroenteritis, causing stomach cramps and diarrhea, to life-threatening ailments such as cholera, dysentery, infectious hepatitis and severe gastroenteritis.  Exposure to untreated sewage, therefore, presents a serious health risk to those who may come into contact with it.  Groups facing greater risks include children, the elderly, immune-compromised groups and pregnant women.

DELCORA’s wastewater facilities serve approximately 500,000 people in the greater Philadelphia area, including many low-income communities.  Once fully implemented, the settlement will help reduce the direct exposure of low-income and minority populations in the service area to raw sewage.  DELCORA must also seek input from the public on the long-term control plan, including from Chester Creek and surrounding communities that have historically been overburdened by pollution.

The consent decree also requires DELCORA to notify the public of CSO discharges using a visual notification system, including warning lights and flags at CSO outfalls, where a sewer empties into local waterways.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives.  EPA is working to reduce discharges from sewer overflows by securing commitments from cities to implement timely, affordable solutions.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval after it is published in the Federal Register. 

For more information on this settlement or to read the proposed consent decree, go to: http://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees

Updated August 18, 2015