Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Consent Decree Resolving Westchester County’s Violations
County Will Pay More Than $1.1 Million Civil Penalty – the Largest Civil Penalty Ever Imposed Under the Safe Drinking Water Act on an Operator of a Public Water System
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Judith Enck, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), announced today that Westchester County (“Westchester” or the “County”) has entered into a consent decree with the United States to resolve the civil lawsuit filed in August 2013, alleging that since April 2012 the County has failed to operate its Water District No. 1 in compliance with regulations designed to protect the public from Cryptosporidium, a parasite that can cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Water District No. 1 supplies water to residents of Scarsdale, White Plains, Mount Vernon, and Yonkers. Since April 2012, a significant portion of the drinking water distributed by Water District No. 1 has not been properly treated.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “For years, Westchester County has flouted its obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act by failing to ensure that drinking water supplied by Westchester Water District No. 1 was properly treated for Cryptosporidium. Today’s consent decree ensures that Westchester will finally come into compliance with EPA standards, and will pay a significant civil penalty for its years of noncompliance.”
EPA Regional Administrator Enck stated: “The people of Westchester deserve high quality drinking water. These long-overdue drinking water treatment upgrades will bring Westchester into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and will protect the people of Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, White Plains and Yonkers from water-borne diseases.”
According to the allegations of the complaint:
Since April 2012, Westchester, through its Water District No. 1, has failed to comply with the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (the “Enhanced Water Treatment Rule”) by failing to upgrade its water treatment facilities or capabilities to properly treat its drinking water for Cryptosporidium. Public water systems that were required to comply with the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule had more than six years from the enactment of the rule to achieve compliance. The Enhanced Water Treatment Rule specifically targets public water systems with higher potential risks of Cryptosporidium contamination; it requires such public water systems to treat unfiltered surface water for this parasite. Cryptosporidium contamination can lead to cryptosporidiosis, a potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness in humans for which there is no known treatment. The illness poses greater risks to people with weakened immune systems, such as young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
Previously in this litigation, the U.S. District Court in White Plains ruled that Water District No. 1 is a public water system and that Water District No. 1 was subject to an April 1, 2012, deadline to comply with the treatment requirements in the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule.
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In the consent decree filed today in White Plains federal court, Westchester admits, acknowledges, and accepts responsibility for the following:
- Westchester operates Water District No. 1.
- Westchester, “as operator of Water District No. 1, failed to ensure that Water District No. 1 implemented the water treatment measures of the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule.”
- The Enhanced Water Treatment Rule “required certain public water systems to implement specific water treatment measures” by April 1, 2012.
- “Water District No. 1 did not implement the water treatment measures of the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule by April 1, 2012, and to date has not implemented the water treatment measures of the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule.”
Pursuant to the consent decree filed today, Westchester will make capital improvements within Water District No. 1 to bring it into compliance with the Enhanced Water Treatment Rule. These capital improvements will cost approximately $10 million. While the capital improvements are being completed, the consent decree requires Westchester to undertake interim measures, including to reduce the amount of noncompliant water supplied by Water District No. 1 and enhanced monitoring of source water from the Kensico Reservoir for Cryptosporidium. Westchester will make the enhanced source monitoring results available to the public on its website.
In addition to this injunctive relief, Westchester will pay a civil penalty of $1,108,771, the largest civil penalty ever imposed under the Safe Drinking Water Act on the operator of a public water system. Westchester will be subject to substantial additional penalties if it fails to adhere to the deadlines in the consent decree.
Finally, Westchester has agreed to spend an additional $691,229 on supplemental environmental projects for the benefit of the residents of Water District No. 1. Westchester has committed to expend these funds (i) to increase the number of days during which unused pharmaceuticals and hazardous household chemicals will be accepted from residents of Water District No. 1 at Westchester’s Household Materials Recovery Facility or at other designated sites and (ii) to purchase at least $100,000 worth of 55-gallon rain barrels for residential collection and storage of roof rainwater runoff, to be distributed to residents of Water District No. 1.
The consent decree will be lodged with the District Court for a period of at least 30 days, and notice of the consent decree will be published in the Federal Register before the consent decree is submitted for the Court’s approval. This will afford members of the public the opportunity to submit comments on the consent decree to the Department of Justice.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Environmental Protection Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew E. Krause and Cristine Irvin Phillips are in charge of the case.