The Williamsport Sanitary Authority has agreed to make significant improvements to its combined sewer system at an estimated cost of approximately $10 million, in order to resolve long-standing problems with combined sewer overflows to the Susquehanna River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this week.
Under the settlement agreement, filed in federal court in Williamsport, WSA will expand the treatment capacity of its Central Wastewater Treatment Plant and increase its storage capacity to cope with high flow during wet weather to guard against combined sewer overflows to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
WSA has also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $320,000 for past violations of the Clean Water Act. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is joining in the settlement as a co-plaintiff.
The agreement resolves allegations in a complaint, also filed today, that WSA violated the Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law by failing to implement long term control plans, and other wastewater controls required by its state-issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.
The settlement requires WSA to implement long term control plans designed to minimize the potential for combined sewer overflows.
“This agreement will have positive, lasting effects on both public health and the environment. As a result of today’s settlement, Williamsport will increase sewer capacity, which will reduce illegal flows of untreated sewage and runoff, keeping pollution out of Pennsylvania’s waterways,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department is committed to enforcing our nation’s environmental laws so that the environment and the health of our communities are protected.”
“Sewage overflows can seriously harm public health by carrying dangerous bacteria into waterways used for drinking water and recreation.” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “When fully implemented, today's agreement will reduce the amount of untreated sewage being discharged into the Susquehanna River by more than 52 million gallons per year.”
WSA provides sewage collection and treatment to nearly 60,000 people within Williamsport and several surrounding communities, using a system that includes combined sewers carrying both sewage and storm water runoff. Combined sewer overflows occur when the capacity of the treatment system is overwhelmed by wet weather runoff and untreated sewage is discharged into receiving waters.
Untreated sewage contains viruses and protozoa as well as other parasites. Individuals coming in contact with these organisms can suffer adverse health effects ranging from minor ailments such as sore throats, stomach cramps and diarrhea, to life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, dysentery, infectious hepatitis and severe gastroenteritis. Children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are more at risk of illness.
The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of sewage and other pollutants into U.S. waters. Discharges must comply with an NPDES permit that is designed to be protective of EPA-approved water quality standards.
The Susquehanna River is located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This action is part of a multi-state, multi-media Chesapeake Bay watershed compliance initiative, which EPA is implementing in partnership with Pennsylvania and the other Bay states, in order to improve water quality in local waterways and the bay, the largest estuary in North America.
According to the settlement, the United States and the Department of Environmental Protection will each receive one-half of the total $320,000 civil penalty.
The settlement agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available online.