On Dec. 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement requiring Puerto Rico’s government to upgrade stormwater systems operated for road and highway drainage. This settlement is related to another agreement announced Oct. 26, 2015, requiring the Municipality of San Juan to upgrade its municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4).
The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Department of Transportation and Public Works from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority will be responsible for upgrading San Juan’s stormwater systems. The Puerto Rico agencies will invest an estimated $77 million in infrastructure upgrades and other actions over the life of the two legal agreements.
The EPA estimates that more than 6 million gallons of untreated wastewater is being discharged into waterways in and around San Juan every day, amounting to more than 8.3 million m3 (2.2 billion gal) discharged annually.
In a 2014 compliant, EPA alleges that the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources was discharging pollutants without a permit from three pump stations designed to control flooding in the San Juan area. However, these three pump stations have been receiving flow from various sources containing untreated wastewater. The agreement with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources requires it to invest an estimated $33 million to upgrade its system over the life of the settlement.
EPA also alleges that the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority was discharging stormwater containing untreated wastewater through their road and highway drainage systems. Flow from these systems is conveyed to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ pump stations. Under a legal agreement, the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority will invest an estimated $44 million over the life of the agreement.
EPA waived the collection of any monetary civil penalties due to financial challenges currently facing the Puerto Rican government. However, the agreements will include financial penalties if the agencies fail to complete the work and meet the deadlines.