Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced today that the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has agreed to make significant upgrades to reduce overflows from its sewer system and pay a $2.6 million civil penalty to resolve Clean Water Act (CWA) violations stemming from illegal discharges of raw sewage. The state of Texas is a co-plaintiff in this case and will receive half of the civil penalty.
When wastewater systems overflow, they can release raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways, threatening water quality and contributing to beach closures and disease outbreaks. To come into compliance with the CWA, including remedial measures taken during the parties’ negotiations and the comprehensive measures required under the settlement, SAWS is expected to spend $1.1 billion to achieve compliance.
“EPA is working with cities across the country to protect the nation’s waters from raw sewage overflows that can threaten public health,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The improvements and upgrades agreed to in this settlement will protect the people of San Antonio and the surrounding communities by reducing raw sewage in the water.”
“This settlement will help protect San Antonio residents from exposure to raw sewage by committing San Antonio to make immediate, badly needed repairs to its sewers as well as long-term improvements in the operation, management and maintenance of its system,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These improvements will benefit well over a million people living in Bexar County, with a special focus on reducing sewage overflows in communities who have suffered a historical pollution burden.”
The Justice Department, on behalf of EPA, filed a complaint against SAWS alleging that between 2006 and 2012, SAWS had approximately 2,200 illegal overflows from its sanitary sewer system that discharged approximately 23 million gallons of raw sewage into local waterways in violation of its CWA discharge permit. The cause of these overflows stems largely from system capacity problems that result in the sewer system being overwhelmed by rainfall, causing it to discharge untreated sewage combined with storm water into local waterways. EPA confirmed these violations during a 2011 field inspection and record review.
As part of the settlement, SAWS will conduct system-wide assessments, identify and implement remedial measures to address problems that cause or contribute to illegal discharges found during those assessments, and initiate a capacity management, operation and maintenance program to proactively reduce sanitary sewer overflows. The plan must be fully implemented by calendar year 2025. In the early years of the CD, SAWS will take actions that will result in reduction of sanitary sewer overflows. In addition, SAWS will conduct water quality monitoring to identify potential additional sources of bacterial contamination that could be contributing to impairment of the Upper San Antonio River.
SAWS wastewater treatment plant serves approximately 1.3 million people in Bexar County, which includes the city of San Antonio. Its wastewater collection and treatment system consists of approximately 5,100 miles of gravity sewer lines, including approximately 100,000 manholes and 170 lift stations.
Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the waters of the United States is one of the EPA’s national top priorities. EPA’s initiative focuses on reducing sewer overflows, which can present a significant threat to human health and the environment.
The settlement will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division and is subject to a 30-day public comment period before final court approval of the consent decree. Once the consent decree has been approved and entered, SAWS will have 60 days to pay the civil penalty to the United States and the state of Texas.
The proposed consent decree can be viewed online at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.