The U.S. EPA announced that it has reached a consent decree with the Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) to improve the quality of its sewer system, estimated to cost about $400 million, to address sewer overflows.
The United States filed a complaint alleging that GWA was in violation of provisions of the Clean Water Act and applicable permits by repeatedly discharging untreated sewage from its wastewater collection system and discharging excess pollutants from its wastewater treatment plants.
According to EPA, at least 237 sanitary sewer overflows have occurred from GWA’s collection system since 2018. GWA has also been implementing Safe Drinking Water Act work and other Clean Water Act work under a 2011 federal court order.
“Sewer overflows can cause significant health and environmental problems in communities, which is why today’s settlement with Guam Water Authority is so essential,” said David M. Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By improving sewer system operations and updating infrastructure, Guam will meet its legal obligations and be better prepared for the major storms that are likely to happen more frequently due to climate change.”
The consent decree requires GWA to minimize overflows, which will have immediate benefits to the island’s environment. Untreated sewage from overflows can pose serious threats to human health and damage the environment.
“Today’s action shows our continuing commitment to prioritize enforcement and encourage environmental improvement in the communities most burdened by environmental harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “By improving Guam’s sewer system infrastructure, GWA can encourage and support better health for people and the environment and improve their ability to meet the challenges presented by a changing climate.”
GWA will improve sewer system operation and maintenance programs and implement new requirements for pretreatment of wastewater and to control fats, oils and grease (FOG).
Sewer system upgrades will include practices to improve climate change resiliency of pump stations and to consider EPA’s Creating Resilient Water Utilities initiative, including the Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities. The settlement also requires enhanced public outreach and engagement to increase transparency around GWA’s plans to comply with the agreement and educate the public on its environmental improvements.
GWA will also develop a feasibility study for secondary treatment upgrades to the Hagåtña wastewater treatment plant, which will include analyzes of climate change and sea level rise and be submitted for EPA’s approval. This secondary treatment upgrade will be embodied in a subsequent judicial settlement. GWA receives some grant funding from EPA for wastewater and drinking water projects, including $50 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding over the past two years.
The proposed partial consent decree is lodged in the U.S. District Court of Guam. The settlement is subject to a public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing on the Justice Department’s website.