EPA: Puerto Rico Administration of Corrections Agrees To Construct $1 Million Water Supply System

The Puerto Rico Administration of Corrections (PRAC) agreed to construct a safe drinking water supply system -- at a projected cost of $1 million -- to provide safe drinking water to the rural community of La Sapia, in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, to resolve violations of a consent decree entered in 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and EPA announced on March 8.

Additionally, PRAC will pay a penalty of $500,000 for violations of the 1997 settlement, which resolved allegations that PRAC violated the Clean Water Act by discharging contaminated wastewater from four prisons into Puerto Rico waters.

In order to assure compliance, the settlement requires PRAC to:

  • Perform detailed tasks necessary for completion of the La Sapia project according to a specified schedule.
  • Hire a field inspector to supervise compliance and submit regular status reports to EPA.
  • Deposit a total of $3 million in two escrow accounts dedicated, respectively, to the funding of the La Sapia project and to the payment of penalties in the event of any future violations.

"This settlement eliminates the discharge of untreated wastewater and protects local waters," said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Region 2 administrator. "We are now in the home stretch of what has been a concerted effort on the part of EPA to bring PRAC into compliance."

"The safe drinking water requirements in (this) settlement are designed to ensure that PRAC fulfills its obligations in the 1997 settlement to the people of Puerto Rico," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The settlement advances our commitment to enforcing the laws that ensure that the waters of Puerto Rico are clean and safe for the local community."

As a result of EPA and DOJ enforcement actions in this case, PRAC has already spent millions of dollars to permanently close malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants at three prisons (Guerrero Penal Camp, Zarzal Penal Camp and Guavate Penal Camp), to construct connections from two of those prisons to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority's regional wastewater treatment system, and to upgrade a wastewater pump system at a fourth prison (Las Cucharas Correctional Complex).

The March 8 settlement is in the form of a proposed consent decree, which was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. During that time, the consent decree may also be examined on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html. For more information on water-related issues, visit http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/water.html.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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