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San Antonio to pay $2.6 million penalty for Clean Water Act violations

August 1, 2013


The city of San Antonio has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will require the city to pay a $2.6 million civil penalty over multiple violations of the Clean Water Act, the agency has announced.

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) will also have to significantly improve its sewer system to reduce the risk of sewer overflows. It is estimated that upgrades to the system would cost the city about $1.1 billion to ensure its water system is fully compliant with relevant regulations.

The consent decree was sought by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA, with the state of Texas being a co-plaintiff in the case. As such it will receive half of the civil penalty, which relates to raw sewage discharge, the statement explained.

The complaint against SAWS was filed in relation to alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, claiming that in the period between 2006 and 2012 SAWS was responsible for approximately 2,200 illegal overflows from its sewer system. These reportedly resulted in almost 23 million gallons of raw sewage being discharged into local waterways, breaching SAWS' discharge permit. According to the EPA, the main cause of these overflows was insufficient system capacity, which made the city's water system incapable of handling rainfall and led to repeated overflows of untreated sewage and storm water into local waterways. These violations were confirmed in 2011 by EPA officials who were conducting a field inspection, the statement said.

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Typically, when sewer systems overflow, they discharge raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways. As a result, water quality can be compromised and this can lead to beach closures and even disease outbreaks. In order to ensure that it is fully compliant with the Clean Water Act, SAWS will have to prove it is implementing a remedial strategy, agreed upon by the parties in the negotiation process. These include a number of comprehensive measures that would cost the city more than a billion dollars.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, commented that oversight and monitoring of the quality of water across the country was one of the main duties of the agency and it would make sure that cities in the United Sates met the requirement to protect water resources from sewage overflows than can be a risk to public health. This particular agreement will protect the people of San Antonio and communities around the city by improving its sewer system and reducing pollutant discharge, she added.

Under the terms of the settlement San Antonio will have to conduct a comprehensive system review, in which it must identify remedial measures to solve problems contributing to sewer overflows. SAWS will have to launch a long-term program that will manage capacity, operation and maintenance of the city's wastewater system. The upgrades must be fully implemented by 2025, EPA noted. The consent decree is subject to court approval.