United States Announces Final Resolution of Violations

United States Announces Final Resolution of Violations of Safe Drinking Water Act at New York State Parks

Under the Terms of a Consent Judgment, New York State Has Closed Large Capacity Cesspools and Implemented Projects Reducing Nutrient Pollution

(STL.News) Mark J. Lesko, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Walter Mugdan, Acting Regional Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 (EPA), announced today the final resolution of the United States’ claims that the State of New York, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (collectively, “Defendants”) violated the Safe Drinking Water Act (the “SDWA”) with respect to 54 Large Capacity Cesspools (“the LCCs”) that discharged untreated sanitary waste into the ground at comfort stations located in parks across New York State.  The announcement follows Defendants’ compliance with the terms of an April 2017 Court-ordered Consent Judgment, which required closure of the LCCs and installation of systems at seven parks that reduce the levels of harmful nutrients—including nitrogen—that enter the local groundwater.

Based on Defendants’ compliance with the terms of the Consent Judgment, the parties submitted a stipulation and proposed order requesting that the Court terminate the Consent Judgment.

“Through its implementation of the terms of the Consent Judgment, New York State has complied with the Safe Drinking Water Act and prevented significant amounts of harmful nutrient pollution from entering our groundwater,” stated Acting United States Attorney Lesko.  “This Office will continue to vigorously enforce violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect the public from water contamination.”

“Large cesspools are now a thing of the past in New York State’s parks.  These polluting sewage handling systems use centuries-old technology that can cause serious pollution of groundwater and drinking water,” stated EPA Acting Regional Administrator Mugdan.  “The actions required in the court judgement, including Supplemental Environmental Projects called SEPs that used state-of-the-art technologies at parks across Long Island, dramatically reduced the amount of nitrogen getting into groundwater across New York.  These technologies can now serve as best practices for others.”

Congress enacted the SDWA to protect the nation’s drinking water sources, and EPA regulates LCCs to prevent them from contaminating underground sources of drinking water.  Under the SDWA regulations, owners and operators of LCCs were required to close them by April 5, 2005.  LCCs are cesspools that receive untreated sanitary waste, including human excreta, and are capable of being used by 20 or more persons a day.  Such untreated waste is high in harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen, that can compromise ground and surface water quality.  Nutrient pollution of the ground and surface waters in and surrounding Suffolk County is a longstanding problem that threatens the area’s water quality and ecosystem.

Many of New York’s public water systems rely on underground sources of water for their supply.  Underground injection wells, including cesspools, pose a risk to the public because they can contaminate underground drinking water sources and the public water systems that use those sources.  Thirty-six of the LCCs were above the Nassau/Suffolk County Sole Source Aquifer, which supplies most of the drinking water for the population of Long Island.  Nine of the LCCs, previously located in Broome and Orange Counties, were above the Clinton Street-Ballpark and the Ramapo Sole Source Aquifers, which supply most of the drinking water for the populations of the Broome and Orange County areas.

Pursuant to the Consent Judgment, which settled claims filed by the United States, Defendants closed the LCCs between 2017 and 2019.  The injunctive relief in the settlement had an approximate value of $8.8 million.  Defendants also implemented a series of Supplemental Environmental Projects (“SEPs”) at seven Long Island parks which significantly reduce the amount of harmful nutrients, including nitrogen, that enter the local groundwater.  These SEPs included urine separation systems, nitrogen-reducing technology, and green technology improvements to stormwater treatment systems.  Defendants spent over $3.5 million to implement these projects, which are ongoing.

To date, the SEPs have collectively removed approximately 1,500 pounds of nitrogen from septic system discharges, and they will continue to remove approximately 500 pounds of nitrogen per year.  These amounts represent a substantial portion of nitrogen present in the waste waters discharged from the park facilities.  For example, the treatment system at Connetquot State Park Preserve was found to remove 88% of the nitrogen from sanitary wastewater.  In addition, there is an educational area at Connetquot and Captree State Parks where park visitors can learn about the nitrogen pollution, including sources, effects and solutions and the nitrogen removal technology installed at each of the parks. Visitors of Captree State Park can also learn about green technology, which manages and treats stormwater run-off, and removes 50% of the nitrogen from rain events.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Division. Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Silverman is in charge of the litigation, with assistance from Lauren Fischer, Assistant Regional Counsel, Water and General Law Branch, EPA Region 2, Nicole Kraft, Section Chief, Water Compliance Branch, EPA Region 2, and Lisa Kim Pelcyger, Environmental Engineer, Water Compliance Branch, EPA Region 2.

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CV-6989 (JMA)