Navajo Tribal Utility Authority agrees to Partial Consent Decree

Jan. 22, 2024
NTUA’s Partial Consent Decree requires $100M in wastewater treatment upgrades to improve facilities’ Clean Water Act compliance.

The U.S. EPA has announced a settlement with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) to improve wastewater treatment at its Chinle, Kayenta, and Tuba City facilities in Arizona.

NTUA has agreed to a Partial Consent Decree that requires wastewater treatment upgrades that will total approximately $100 million and aims to improve compliance with the facilities’ Clean Water Act permits. These upgrades will impact approximately 20,000 individuals across four communities within Navajo Nation.

Based on findings from EPA inspections and reports submitted by NTUA, the U.S. states in their complaint that NTUA violated its Clean Water Act permits by regularly discharging wastewater that had not been treated to the required permit standards, and by failing to properly operate and maintain the facilities’ sewer systems to prevent sewage spills.

The Partial Consent Decree requires NTUA to improve the performance of its existing treatment plants in the short term, and to construct new treatment plants over the longer term. NTUA will seek to relocate the new Tuba City facility from its current footprint to mitigate risks associated with the Moenkopi Wash’s continued erosion toward the facility and to decrease the chance of a catastrophic release of sewage. In addition, NTUA must improve its operation and maintenance of the facilities and study its sewer system piping to identify all defects and plan for their repair.

The U.S. and NTUA will negotiate the terms of the sewer system repair plan at a later date, and any agreement will be captured in a subsequent, Final Consent Decree.

“The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority unlawfully discharged untreated sewage from three of its wastewater facilities,” said David M. Uhlmann, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This partial settlement will result in cleaner and healthier water for tribal communities within the Navajo Nation. They deserve nothing less.”

“Today’s action shows our commitment to prioritize public health and environmental protection for communities throughout the nation, including members of tribal communities often disproportionately burdened by pollution,” said Amy Miller, EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Director for the country’s Pacific Southwest region. “By partnering with tribal governments to enforce federal and tribal pollution laws, we can protect public health and ensure communities have access to clean waterways.”

Improving the quality of water NTUA discharges from its facilities and minimizing sewage spills will directly benefit the environment and protect public health.

To support its wastewater treatment programs, NTUA receives grant funding from various federal agencies — including the EPA, the Indian Health Service, and the Department of Agriculture — and from recent federal appropriations including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the American Rescue Plan Act. Federal grants from these and other sources are projected to cover the majority of the $100 million cost expected under the Partial Consent Decree.

The proposed decree is lodged in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. The settlement is subject to a public comment period and final court approval. The Partial Consent Decree will be available for viewing on the Justice Department’s website at: www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.