Williamsport Must Stop Sewage Overflows to Susquehanna River
WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2010 (ENS) – In the Pennsylvania city of Williamsport, the sanitary authority has agreed to make improvements to its combined sewer system to resolve long-standing problems with combined sewer overflows to the Susquehanna River, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay.
The agreement reached today is part of a multi-state, multi-media Chesapeake Bay watershed compliance initiative, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is implementing in partnership with Pennsylvania and the other bay states to improve water quality in local waterways and the bay, the largest estuary in North America.
Announcing the city’s settlement agreement with the federal government, the Justice Department and the EPA said today that the improvements are estimated to cost the city approximately $10 million.
Williamsport Sanitary Authority 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.
Under the agreement, filed today in federal court in Williamsport, the United States and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will each receive one-half of the total $320,000 civil penalty.
According to the settlement, the sanitary authority 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.
The agreement resolves allegations in a complaint, also filed today, that Williamsport Sanitary Authority 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 water quality permits.
Williamsport Sanitary Authority 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.
The settlement requires Williamsport Sanitary Authority to implement long term control plans designed to minimize the potential for combined sewer overflows.
The Susquehanna River at Williamsport, Pennsylvania (Photo by Jennifer Kowatch)
“This agreement will have positive, lasting effects on both public health and the environment,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”
“Sewage overflows can seriously harm public health by carrying dangerous bacteria into waterways used for drinking water and recreation.” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn 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.”
Untreated sewage contains viruses and protozoa as well as other parasites. Individuals coming in contact with these organisms can suffer minor ailments such as sore throats, stomach cramps and diarrhea, and can also suffer life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, dysentery, infectious hepatitis and severe gastroenteritis.
Children, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are most 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 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that is designed to be protective of EPA-approved water quality standards.
The settlement agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Click here for a copy of the consent decree.