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Prasa Inherits Environmental Woes

Must clean up act to comply with Environmental Protection Agency orders


April 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

When the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) took over the island’s water and sewerage operations from Ondeo on April 1, it inherited a number of jobs that need to be completed in order to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

According to Carl-Axel Soderberg, chief of the EPA’s Caribbean office, Prasa must refurbish some 100 leaking sewage-pump stations upstream from water-supply intakes.

Prasa must also finish installing water-filtration systems at 45 plants. The work has been completed at all but eight of the agency’s potable water plants, said Soderberg. Though water at the plants is chlorinated, all utilities are required to have filtration systems if water is taken from surface sources.

The EPA also ordered Prasa to develop and implement a preventive maintenance program for all of its water and sewerage facilities. "Preventive maintenance at Prasa doesn’t exist at all," said Soderberg.

Under a federal consent decree, Prasa must also install sedimentation-treatment facilities at 50 of its sewage-disposal plants. "Sedimentation at these plants is currently being dumped back into the river, and a lot of these systems don’t provide any treatment of the effluent at all," said Soderberg.

Of the 50 plants that need to be upgraded, 10 still require improvements, he added.

According to Prasa Executive President Juan Agosto Alicea, the authority has assigned $125 million for urgent programs. "These projects include improvements to small infrastructure, works on repair and maintenance, urgent repairs of pump stations to comply with environmental standards, and improvements to the electrical system," he said.

Another outstanding environmental issue for Prasa is its effort to obtain 301(h) waivers from the EPA in order to continue pumping water treated by primary methods from plants that discharge waste into the ocean.

Primary treatment consists of removing solid sludge from the waste and adding chlorine. Secondary treatment also involves oxygenating the wastewater by filtering it, generally through a microbe culture. Converting a plant from primary to secondary treatment can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 301(h) waivers, which have been doggedly opposed by environmental groups, allow plants to continue to treat wastewater with primary treatment, but only if the water dilutes in mixing zones of a predetermined area so it meets federal clean-water standards when it reaches the edge of the zones.

Of the six waivers requested of the EPA, four have been issued for Bayamon, Puerto Nuevo, and Carolina. Two, from Arecibo and Aguadilla, have been approved but are under appeal by environmental groups.

One, in Ponce, is still pending. The Ponce plant’s discharge tube still requires repair. It has leaks in its shallow portion and in its deepwater portion, which runs 400 feet deep. The Ponce ocean outfall is the second-deepest ocean outfall in the hemisphere, said Soderberg.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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