DEP Fines Emlenton Water System Owner for Violations

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has assessed a six-figure civil penalty against the owner and operator of a Venango County water treatment facility that has been plagued by problems because of operational deficiencies.

Under the latest action, the agency fined Emlenton Water Co. owner Jeffrey Foley $186,374 for numerous violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, failure to comply with an earlier order by the department, and costs DEP incurred in its lengthy attempt to bring the water system into compliance.

DEP also ordered Foley to submit applications for permits to treat and discharge wastewater from the facility’s filter plant. Foley has been operating the facility without the necessary permits.

“Owning and operating a public water system demands responsible stewardship to make sure that clean and safe water is being provided to the homes and businesses in the community,” said DEP Regional Director Kelly Burch. “Properly handling the wastewater from treatment facilities is part of that responsibility. Mr. Foley has failed to fully correct the problems that were identified last spring, which has delayed lifting the boil water advisory by several months. During our investigation, the department also discovered that Mr. Foley had failed to obtain the required permits for wastewater processing and discharge.”

These latest DEP actions are follow-up to a DEP filter plant inspection in April that resulted in a boil water advisory for the water supply’s customers. The boil water advisory remains in effect.

Aqua Pennsylvania recently began providing bulk and bottled water to Emlenton customers after the Public Utility Commission issued an emergency order on Nov. 20 that appointed Aqua as the certified operator for the Emlenton system. The PUC order was in response to an emergency petition jointly filed by DEP and the Office of Consumer Advocate.

Meanwhile, the PUC is reviewing a sales agreement between Aqua and Foley.

“From the beginning, our primary focus has been to ensure that this plant provides consistently clean and safe drinking water to the customers in Emlenton,” said Burch. “We look forward to the sales transaction being completed as soon as possible to bring future compliance and long-term stability to this system.”

In the interim, Aqua is directing operations through a service agreement with Foley, who remains responsible for providing treatment chemicals, utilities, and a laborer that is running the plant under Aqua’s direction. DEP is in daily contact with Aqua representatives working on operational and reporting issues as wells as transition plans.

On Nov. 25, DEP issued an order to the Emlenton Water Co., Jeffrey Foley, and Kathleen Foley that requires them to submit wastewater discharge and associated permit applications for the discharge of wastewater that results from backwashing the treatment plant water filters. The order also requires the Emlenton Water Co. and the Foleys to submit a plan to address the unpermitted discharge during the interim period before permit issuance.

Under two orders—one issued by DEP on May 22 and another by Commonwealth Court on Aug. 7—Emlenton Water Co. was to submit standard operating procedures for DEP approval that would ensure the plant would be operated effectively over a wide range of conditions and in the absence of the certified operator who may not be on site at all times.

The orders also required that Foley rebuild the treatment plant filters, which he did. However, operational deficiencies at the plant have undercut the effectiveness of the new filters and, in fact, are causing the new filters to deteriorate.

The $186,374 penalty is to be deposited into the Safe Drinking Water Account for use in protecting the public from the hazards of unsafe drinking water.

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