Fw: Puerto Rico Action Alert

CORALations corals at caribe.net
Fri Jan 7 07:25:53 EST 2000

Puerto Rico Coral Reef Action Alert 

    A few days ago we circulated a sign-on letter to EPA Region II regarding a new Primary Waste Water Treatment Plant [WWTP] being proposed for construction with coastal discharge in Puerto Rico. Many people wrote back to us requesting more information. Others wrote concerns about signing on to a letter which addressed one specific WWTP. We are in the process of getting reference documents scanned to a web site. In the mean time, for those who requested more information, below is a summary.
    Where as it is true that this letter focuses on only one WWTP, we would like to point out that this primary WWTP, by virtue of the fact that it has yet to be built, serves as an excellent example of the failure of EPA Region II to enforce Clean Water Act (CWA) in Puerto Rico.
Clean Water Act

    October, 1999 marked the 27th anniversary of the CWA in the United States, but Puerto Rico is not celebrating. In 1972, Congress passed the CWA amendment which required publicly owned WWTP to achieve secondary treatment capability by 1977. Waivers were to be allowed on a case-by case review, but only if complete waiver applications were submitted by 1982. Applicants get two tries. If granted a waiver, the plants have to adhere to strict monitoring guidelines to demonstrate they are not damaging the environment. This means that the proponents for the proposed Dorado WWTP have had 18 years to complete and submit their second round waiver applications. 
To date, there are 9 plants pending 301(h) / Clean Water Act Waivers in the United States and its jurisdictions. Six (6) of these plants are in Puerto Rico, and 2 are in the U. S. Virgin Islands. These are all under EPA Region II. 
(The 9th plant was in Maine, but I think they agreed to upgrade to secondary - not sure.)
    Five plants in Puerto Rico have been operating without their CWA waivers, and the CWA waiver monitoring standards for almost two decades. If you are thinking...better primary out of a long tube away from reefs than secondary out a short tube, consider this: Puerto Rico's primary plant diffusers (with one exception) discharge heavily chlorinated sewage less than a mile off shore. The diffusers in Arecibo and Aguadilla are located in coastal waters less than 70 feet deep. The wastefields of all diffusers are neither trapped nor diluted. Plume surfacing is common outside of the mixing zones. 
    The letter circulated referred to two EPA letters written to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority [PRASA] - the proponents of these plants - stating a deadline for their second round applications. We believe that the failure of EPA Region II to stick to such deadlines has contributed to their inability to enforce CWA in Puerto Rico.

Below is the summary taken from an internal EPA Report of Audit entitled: Review of EPA's Processing of Clean Water Act Section 301(h) Waivers. Audit Report No. E1HWFO-02-0140-0100482, September 18, 1990.

"Although the Region resolved New York and New Jersey waiver requests in an effective manner, it delayed taking timely actions to render decisions or formally deny Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands waiver requests when (i) applications were either incomplete and requested information was not timely or completely provided (ii) applicants refused to withdraw tentatively denied applications, (iii) tentative approval conditions were not met, and (iv) non-compliance with Administrative Order's effluent limits occurred. Although the Region was aware of most Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and Virgin Islands Department of Public Works (VIDPW) performance shortcomings discussed in our report, it has not followed up its numerous threats to deny applications when required actions were not adequately or timely provided. While considering applicants' financial problems, the Region also may have allowed certain waiver applications to be used to circumvent statutory requirements."

Proponents for the primary WWTP's in Puerto Rico refer to their history of non-compliance to EPA administrative orders as evidence of their inabilities to run a more technically complex secondary treatment plant. They also argue that they cannot afford the expense of adequate sewage treatment. However, the value of our diverse tropical coastal ecosystem has never entered into the cost-benefit analysis of these plants, nor has the long term maintenence of these large regional plants and their associated trunk systems. These decaying pipes significantly contribute to urban runoff problems. Also never taken into cost-benefit consideration for these plants is the cost of impacts to human health and the tourism industry.
As proponents prepare to submit their final CWA waiver applications for these plants, they have also dramatically increased the NPDES permit flow limits.

Aguadilla, currently discharges 5mgd(million gallons/day) and is being increased to 10mgd
Arecibo, currently at 8mgd is being increased to 10mgd
Puerto Nuevo, currently at 60mgd is being increased to 144mgd
Bayamon, currently at 25mgd is being increased to 80mgd
Ponce, currently at 12mgd is being increased to 36mgd (Ponce has the longest diffuser)
Loiza/Carolina currently discharges 25mgd, (in excess of their current 20 mgd limit). Their new NPDES permit app. asked for an increase to 90mgd. 

    Adding the proposed Dorado plant with its 30 mgd capacity, EPA and Puerto Rico could be legally permitting the discharge of around 400 million gallons of heavily chlorinated sewage, and in some cases industrial waste, into our tropical coastal ecosystem each day. These NPDES increases will be used to demonstrate infrastructure for the permitting of new developments. We contend that primary sewage treatment is not sewage treatment, and does not demonstrate proper infrastructure for such development.
    We hope this answers any questions about why we would ask experts to sign on a letter pertaining to such a specific issue. We do not believe that the Congress of the United States intended for CWA waivers to be used to construct new primary sewage treatment plants with ocean discharge in the year 2000. EPA should stick to their written deadlines. Knowing what we know today, we need to "make" the recovery of these diverse tropical coastal ecosystems a priority - not just "say" that they should be a priority.
   The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association have voiced their opposition to the proposed Dorado plant, as well as the other primary WWTP's in PR, in writing and at public hearings.Three days ago, the community of Toa Baja (the community where the Dorado plant proposed to be built) organized a "sit-in" in the Caribbean EPA office to demonstrate their concern about this new plant. Jean Fox responded by granting proponents another extension. We hope more coral reef experts will sign on to this letter, or move through other channels to help us address these serious coastal clean water problems and the Federal enforcement of CWA in Puerto Rico and USVI'.s.  


Mary Ann Lucking
Project Coordinator
PMB 222
5900 Isla Verde Ave. L2
Carolina, PR  00979-4901
corals at caribe.net
Toll Free: 1-877-77coral

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