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EPA requires PRASA to upgrade sewage infrastructure

The Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (PRASA) has agreed to make major improvements and upgrades to the island’s sanitary collection system and wastewater treatment plants, as part of a settlement modification with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

These upgrades will allow the water utility to focus its resources on fewer, more efficient facilities, meet revised schedules for specific wastewater infrastructure projects, and execute 17 new wastewater projects estimated to cost $534 million. PRASA has also agreed to increasing transparency with the public regarding the occurrence of Combined Sewer Overflows, the EPA said in a press release.

The modification updates and expands upon several obligations from a 2016 consent decree. The EPA and DOJ agreed to modify the 2016 agreement in light of the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and María, and changed financial circumstances that made it difficult for PRASA to comply with certain requirements and deadlines.

The improvements will complement projects currently being implemented as part of PRASA’s Capital Improvements Program.

“The people of Puerto Rico deserve access to clean water and major improvements to their water infrastructure are overdue,” said Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This revised agreement requires PRASA to improve the collection and treatment of domestic sewage and wastewater, which is key to public health.”

The injunctive relief in the consent decree and this modification is estimated to result in more than $1.2 billion of infrastructure projects. These include consolidating several facilities affected by the hurricanes into more resilient plants, and constructing or improving sanitary sewer infrastructure in underserved communities to address environmental justice concerns.

The agreement ensures the decommissioning of antiquated and ineffective wastewater treatment plants at Arecibo and Camuy, along with the diversion of the wastewater to the Barceloneta Wastewater Treatment Plant, a secondary and more efficient treatment facility. 

Certain obligations of PRASA’s previous agreement remain unchanged. These include its obligation to undertake a comprehensive operation and maintenance program in the Puerto Nuevo sanitary sewer system and a comprehensive analysis of the system to determine whether further investments must be made to ensure that the system is brought into legal compliance, and to conduct immediate repairs at specific areas of concern.

For the Puerto Nuevo sewer system, PRASA will provide the public with information on its website about where combined sewer overflows occur within the system. There will also be extensions of time to complete reconnaissance and cleaning activities for priority areas of concern identified within the sewer system.

The settlement, lodged on June 29 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent approval by the federal court.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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