Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues Owner And Operator Of Public Water System For Violations Of Safe Drinking Water Act
Defendants Admit Liability In Settlement Filed Simultaneously With Court
Part of Broader U.S. Attorney’s Office and EPA Effort to Ensure Safe Drinking Water Act Compliance
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Judith A. Enck, the Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), announced the filing and settlement of a case in which the United States sued defendants EDWARD A. EHERTS (“Eherts”) and the PAINTED APRON WATER COMPANY, INC. (“Painted Apron”), for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”). The Court approved the settlement today.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Those in the business of providing drinking water to the public have a special responsibility to comply with water safety laws. Through this settlement, defendants have been called to account for longstanding violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. This settlement also caps the efforts of our Office and EPA to ensure that the residents of the Painted Apron community in Orange County have access to water that complies with the law.”
EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck stated: “Everyone has the right to clean drinking water, including customers of private water companies. This legal case will protect people’s health and remind all operators of private water companies that they must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Defendant Painted Apron owned, and defendant Eherts operated, a public water system serving the Painted Apron development in the town of Deerpark in Orange County. As part of the settlement of this case, defendants “admit that they violated the SDWA, its implementing regulations and an administrative order issued by the EPA, by failing to monitor and treat water, make reports, take corrective action, and maintain a certified operator as required by applicable requirements of the SDWA and the administrative order.”
As alleged in the complaint, Eherts ignored repeated efforts by the EPA and state and local regulators to require him to bring this drinking water system into compliance. Rather than address the many violations, Eherts ultimately attempted to abandon the facility. “Defendants admit that “[a]s a result of” their “violations of the law, Defendants’ customers have been subjected to boil-water notices for multiple years.” These “boil-water” notices advised Painted Apron’s residents to boil their water before using it for human consumption or for food preparation. In addition to subjecting members of the community to these boil-water notices, Eherts’ violations also forced members of the community to spend their own time and money trying to keep the water system running as safely as possible.
In addition to admitting liability for these violations, the defendants have agreed to provide the Government with a lien on property in the amount of $50,000; to turn over all records relating to the water utility to new operators; and never again to serve as owners or operators of any public water system.
Beyond this settlement with the defendants, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and EPA have worked directly with the residents of the Painted Apron community to bring their drinking water into compliance with the SDWA. Through those efforts, a committee of residents was identified to replace Eherts as operator of the public water system and to bring the system into compliance. On July 22, 2013, the New York State Public Service Commission appointed this committee as the system’s temporary operator. As temporary operator, the committee is providing safe drinking water compliant with law, and the boil-water notices issued to these the residents have been lifted. Today’s settlement with Eherts and Painted Apron completes our Office’s efforts regarding the Painted Apron water system.
This Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit follows a case brought by this Office and EPA in federal court against Westchester County earlier this year for Safe Drinking Water Act violations.
Mr. Bharara thanked EPA Region 2’s tireless efforts to work with this Office to restore safe drinking water to the Painted Apron community. Mr. Bharara also thanked the New York State Public Service Commission for its efforts to remedy the effects of defendants’ failure to comply with the law.
The case has been handled by the Office’s Environmental Protection Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen London is in charge of the case.