Penn. Environmental Protection Agency Sues Bucks County for Continued Sewage Overflows

Last Wednesday, the United States of America and the Department of Environmental Protection of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) for alleged violations of the Clean Waters Act and Clean Streams Law.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) is in charge of administering National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under the Clean Water Act. Several of these permits were issued to Bucks County so they can operate in five service areas. All of these areas have suffered from “sanitary sewage overflows (SSOs)” since 2004, and the defendants have been fined in order to ensure that they take corrective actions to stop these SSOs from happening again.

In a 2008 Consent Order and Agreement, the county “agreed to eliminate SSOs in the Plumstead Township sanitary sewer collection system by […] implementing an inflow and infiltration abatement program and by instituting a corrective action plan that PADEP had approved.” However, more SSOs occurred since the signing of the Consent Order, including more than 100 in Plumstead Service Area since 2014. SSOs contain “microbial pathogens, oxygen-depleting substances, an excessive amount of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and toxics.”

PADEP claimed that the county has “poor operation and maintenance” and that they have “failed” to undertake corrective measures to prevent future SSOs from occurring. As a result, the plaintiffs are suing on the counts of sanitary sewage overflows, as more than 250 have occurred since January 1st, 2014; failure to properly operate and maintain a sanitary sewer system.

The federal government is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from ongoing and future violations of the CWA and Clean Streams Law, a permanent injunction directing the defendants to prevent unpermitted discharges and improve the management of their sewage systems, civil penalties for continued violations of these laws, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.