The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has charged the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and its management contractor, Compania de Aguas de Puerto Rico (CA), with thousands of violations of the federal Clean Water Act at six wastewater treatment plants throughout the island. The violations range from allowing untreated wastewater to be discharged into Puerto Rico's water bodies to failing to provide proper upkeep of critical equipment at the plants. EPA is seeking a total of $616,943 in penalties from PRASA and CA, and has ordered them to immediately comply with the Clean Water Act.
"Our inspections of these six wastewater treatment plants revealed that a lack of proper maintenance led to over 2,000 violations of the Clean Water Act," said William J. Muszynski, EPA acting regional administrator. "While we recognize that improvements have been made at larger PRASA treatment plants, the needs of the smaller plants cannot be ignored. When they are, the health of Puerto Ricans and of the island's sensitive aquatic systems, is threatened."
EPA inspected and investigated six PRASA/CA wastewater treatment plants: Isabela; Santa Isabel; Boqueron in Cabo Rojo; Camuy-Hatillo in Camuy; Reparto El Valle in Lajas; and Jardines del Torito in Cayey.
The agency discovered that at each facility, PRASA and CA failed in some way to operate and maintain equipment that is essential to the proper treatment of sewage including pumps, controllers, pipes, and mechanical and electrical equipment. This failure is partly responsible for the treatment plants' unauthorized discharges of raw or undertreated sewage into various water bodies of Puerto Rico, whether because equipment was not upgraded to handle the amount of sewage flowing into the facility, or because of ruptures and breaks.
In one particularly troubling instance, the Reparto El Valle Sewage Treatment Plant in Lajas bypassed proper treatment processes and discharged raw sewage into Las Caitas Creek for a total of 317 days between April 5, 2000 and Feb. 15, 2001. At the Boqueron Wastewater Treatment Plant, 14 full or partial bypasses of sewage took place over the course of one year because plant equipment was broken or overwhelmed by the amount of sewage. The sewage was released into the Boqueron Bay. PRASA/CA also bypassed raw sewage treatment at Jardines del Torito for 45 days between July 9, 1999 and Jan. 2, 2001, discharging the sewage into La Plata River.
EPA noted that at each of the plants, effluent - the treated wastewater that comes out of a treatment plant and is then discharged into a nearby water body - exceeded standards for chemical contaminants and other parameters set by EPA. EPA sets these standards to ensure that the water bodies receiving the effluent are protected from environmental degradation.
A review of PRASA/CA's own monitoring reports showed that from June 2000 through April 2001, effluent from the Isabela Wastewater Treatment Plan exceeded EPA-set limits for total suspended solids, total nitrogen, fecal coliform bacteria and chlorine - among other limits. At Santa Isabel, effluent limits were not met from January 2000 through March 2001 and at Boqueron, they were not met from November 2000 through April 2001. Camuy-Hatillo failed to meet its effluent limits from July 2000 through May 2001, while Reparto El Valle failed to meet them from April 1999 to November 2000 and Jardines del Torito in Cayey failed to meet its limits from January 1999 through April 2000.
EPA has filed six separate complaints against PRASA and Compania de Aguas, one for each sewage treatment plant. These complaints come on the heels of a July 2001 complaint issued against PRASA and CA for violations
of the Clean Water Act at the Puerto Nuevo Wastewater Treatment Plant. That complaint sought $137,500 in penalties.
edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])