Puerto Rico government settles complaint with federal government to make upgrades to San Juan water infrastructure
Under two settlements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice, three Puerto Rico government agencies have agreed to upgrade portions of storm water systems they own within the Municipality of San Juan.
“These upgrades, which will be performed by the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources (DNER), the Department of Transportation and Public Works from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority, are aimed at eliminating or minimizing future discharges of sewage and other pollutants into water bodies in and around San Juan, including the Condado Lagoon, the Martin Peña Channel and the Atlantic Ocean,” the EPA announced Wednesday.
The EPA estimates that more than six million gallons of untreated sewage is being discharged into waterways in and around San Juan every day which amounts to more than 2.2 billion gallons discharged annually.
“For far too long, harmful discharges of sewage and other contaminants have polluted water bodies in communities in Puerto Rico,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck in a statement. “These legal agreements will drive water quality improvements and protect the health of the people of Puerto Rico.”
The Puerto Rico agencies will invest an estimated $77 million in infrastructure upgrades and other actions over the life of the two legal agreements. The settlements are related to an agreement with the Municipality of San Juan that was announced on Oct. 26 in which San Juan agreed to take actions to upgrade its separate storm sewer system.
“Stormwater runoff in San Juan is collected through municipal separate storm sewer systems and is discharged into local waterways. When rain falls on roofs, streets and parking lots, the water cannot soak into the ground and carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals and other pollutants into streams, threatening public health,” the EPA said. “In addition, property and infrastructure can be damaged by storm water runoff due to erosion. Additionally, sanitary sewer lines or industrial discharges can also be illegally connected to the storm sewer, leading to untreated sewage or other pollutants reaching water bodies.”
Between 2005 and 2013, the EPA documented that the Puerto Rico agencies were discharging untreated sewage and other pollutants from their storm sewer systems into water bodies, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The waters receiving the untreated sewage include those that are classified for activities where people may come into contact with the water, such as fishing, boating, swimming, wading and/or other recreational and commercial activities.
The EPA waived the collection of any monetary civil penalties due to financial challenges currently facing the Puerto Rico government; however, the agreements will include financial penalties if the agencies fail to complete the work and meet the deadlines.
In the complaint filed in 2014, the EPA alleges that the DNER was discharging pollutants without a permit from its Baldorioty de Castro, De Diego and Stop 18 stormwater pump stations. These three pump stations were designed to control flooding in the San Juan area by pumping large volumes of storm water into receiving waters. These three DNER pump stations have been receiving flow from various sources which contain untreated sewage. The agreement with the DNER requires it to invest an estimated $33 million to upgrade its system.
BY ROSARIO FAJARDO
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