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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

PRASA to make $534 million in sewage infrastructure upgrades to ensure clean water


The modification updates and expands upon several obligations contained in a 2016 consent decree in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department “agreed to modify the 2016 agreement in consideration of damages caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as changed financial circumstances that made it difficult for the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority to comply with certain requirements and deadlines,” according to an EPA statement.

By The Star Staff


The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has agreed to make $534 million in sewage infrastructure upgrades under a settlement modification with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ).


The information is contained in a July 10 EPA release.


According to the settlement modification, PRASA has agreed to make major improvements and upgrades to the island’s sanitary collection system and wastewater treatment plants. The upgrades will allow the water utility to focus its resources on a reduced number of better-operated and more efficient facilities; meet specific revised schedules for specified wastewater infrastructure projects; and execute 17 new wastewater projects, which, on their own, are estimated to cost $534 million. PRASA has also agreed to increase transparency with the public regarding the occurrence of combined sewer overflows (CSOs).


“This modification updates and expands upon several obligations contained in a 2016 consent decree. EPA and DOJ agreed to modify the 2016 agreement in consideration of damages caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as changed financial circumstances that made it difficult for PRASA to comply with certain requirements and deadlines,” the statement reads. “The improvements will supplement projects that are currently being implemented and part of PRASA’s capital improvement 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.”


An injunctive relief in the consent decree and the modification is estimated to amount to over $1.2 billion in infrastructure projects, including consolidation of several facilities that were affected by the hurricanes into more resilient plants, and construction or improvement of sanitary sewer infrastructure in underserved communities to address environmental justice concerns. The agreement ensures the decommissioning of antiquated and ineffective wastewater treatment plants in Arecibo and Camuy along with the diversion of the wastewater to the Barceloneta wastewater treatment plant, a secondary and more efficient treatment facility. Certain of PRASA’s previous obligations remain unchanged, including 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, the public will be provided with information on PRASA’s website concerning where CSOs occur within the system, and there will be extensions of time to complete reconnaissance and cleanup 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.


In a separate statement, PRASA provided an update on the third phase of the $3.4 million project to install emergency power generators. PRASA is close to receiving the generators for some of its facilities.


Union drops suit against Genera PR


Meanwhile, the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym), which is the primary labor union of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), has dropped its challenge to the public-private contract with Genera PR to manage the majority of PREPA’s power generation plants, which went into effect July 1.


In a recent motion to dismiss, UTIER said it did not have the money to appeal a ruling on the generation contract. The union lost its attempt to stop the contract from going into effect through a preliminary injunction last month. U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who is overseeing PREPA’s Title III bankruptcy process, found that UTIER did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.


“Though UTIER is not in agreement with this ruling, it does not have the resources to challenge it,” UTIER said in its motion. “For purposes of judicial economy and to avoid further costs that UTIER is unable to afford upon the transition to Genera having taken effect, UTIER hereby voluntarily dismisses the captioned adversary.”

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