U.S. EPA announces settlement with New York water provider for violating Safe Drinking Water Act

June 26, 2024
The U.S. EPA announced a settlement with a Westchester County drinking water provider and three municipalities for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Editors note: This article was updated June 28, 2024, to include a statement provided by WJWW.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced a settlement on June 24, 2024, with the Westchester Joint Water Works (WJWW), the town/village of Harrison, the village of Mamaroneck, and the town of Mamaroneck.

The settlement is for violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 2019 due to the presence of contaminants that are known to threaten public health in the public water system in excess of the level set by the EPA.

WJWW violated an EPA administrative order requiring the construction of a water filtration plant by specified deadlines.

According to the complaint filed along with the consent decree, the defendants failed to ensure that the drinking water they supplied to approximately 120,000 Westchester County residents complies with federal limits on potentially cancer-causing disinfection byproducts resulting from water treatment.

In 2019, WJWW violated the SDWA and its Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule because it supplied water exceeding legal limits for certain chemicals from the disinfection process, specifically five regulated haloacetic acids known as HAA5.

Epidemiological studies have supported a potential association between disinfection byproduct exposure and bladder cancer and suggested an association with colon and rectal cancers. Additionally, exposure to chlorinated drinking water or disinfection byproducts may cause adverse developmental or reproductive health effects.

Although WJWW has taken certain short-term measures to mitigate risk to its consumers, defendants have failed to implement necessary corrective measures—including WJWW’s failure to construct and operate a filtration plant required by an EPA administrative order and Surface Water Treatment Rule of the SDWA.

The consent decree requires WJWW to pay a $600,000 civil penalty to the United States. In addition, WJWW agreed to spend at least $900,000 on a supplemental environmental project to modify an extended detention basin in the Rye Lake portion of the Kensico Reservoir and manage invasive species in the area.

The defendants will pay New York a $650,000 civil penalty and spend at least $6.8 million on two state water quality benefit projects.

WJWW statement

On December 17, 2019, the Board of Trustees of Westchester Joint Water Works (WJWW), with the support of its member municipalities (Village of Mamaroneck, Town of Mamaroneck and Town/Village of Harrison), enacted a resolution committing to the construction of a drinking water filtration plant for WJWW’s Rye Lake water source. Since that date, WJWW has completed the required environmental review under New York State law, prepared final engineering plans, submitted applications for the required State and local permits, defeated a State court lawsuit challenging the siting of the filtration plant, and entered into a contract with the County of Westchester to acquire the land to build the plant.

Earlier this month, WJWW and the three municipalities entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NY State Attorney General’s Office and State Department of Health in the form of a proposed consent decree, which was lodged with the federal court on June 24, 2024 along with the expected Complaint and necessary paperwork from the State of New York to join in the omnibus settlement. In recognition of WJWW’s good faith efforts and the significant progress it has made in moving the filtration plant project forward, the settlement agreement resolves the governments’ claims for civil penalties at less than one percent of the statutory maximum penalties available under federal and state law.

“The potentially cancer-causing disinfection byproducts resulting from water treatment … exceeding legal limits” stated in the News Release from the USEPA, dated June 24, 2024, are haloacetic acids, known as HAA5. Disinfection byproducts result from naturally occurring organic matter found in Rye Lake and other surface waters which reacts with chlorine used in the standard drinking water disinfection treatment process. The filtration plant will remove naturally occurring organic matter and therefore reduce the formation and presence of disinfection byproducts, including HAA5, in WJWW’s drinking water supply.

“WJWW has been working diligently to move this project forward. Our number-one priority is to protect the safety of our drinking water supply and the health of our residents. To be clear, the water supplied to WJWW customers has been, and continues to be, safe to drink.” Paul Kutzy, P.E., Manager, Westchester Joint Water Works.

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