Westchester Joint Water Works Pleads Guilty to Failure to Provide Safe Drinking Water

The communities affected are Mamaroneck, Harrison, Rye, New Rochelle, Larchmont, Rye Brook and Port Chester.

Defendants must build a drinking water filter system for $138 million, take measures to protect source water quality and pay a total of $1.25 million in civil penalties

WHITE PLAINS, NY (June 25, 2024) – The United States has filed a civil lawsuit against Westchester Joint Water Works, the Town/Village of Harrison, the Village of Mamaroneck, and the City of Mamaroneck, along with a settlement to resolve the case. The lawsuit alleges that in 2019, the defendants violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act because the public water system contained contaminants that exceeded levels established by the EPA, and that WJWW thereafter violated an EPA administrative order requiring the construction of a water filtration plant within certain timelines. The settlement requires the defendants to build a drinking water filtration plant estimated to cost $138 million, take steps to protect source water quality, and pay a $600,000 civil penalty to the United States.

What you say:

US Attorney Damian Williams: “Public water systems have a critical responsibility to ensure our communities have clean drinking water. Thanks to today's agreement, Westchester Joint Water Works will finally build a long-delayed drinking water filtration plant to protect the Westchester County communities it serves.”

Deputy Attorney General Todd Kim: “Today's agreement is the first step toward ensuring a reliable and healthy water supply for 120,000 Westchester County residents. Construction of a much-needed water filtration plant will eliminate the root cause of violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and help meet the region's long-term needs.”

EPA Assistant Administrator David Uhlmann: “Everyone living in the United States has the right to safe drinking water. Today's agreement requires Westchester Joint Water Works to build a new filtration system to prevent contaminated drinking water and protect water quality for a water system that serves several communities, including at least one that is overburdened by environmental impacts. Westchester residents should expect nothing less.”

EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia: “WJWW will build a drinking water filtration plant that will ensure clean and safe drinking water for 120,000 people in Westchester County, immediately pay a $600,000 civil penalty to the federal government, and implement an additional $900,000 environmental project to improve source water quality by reducing stormwater discharges into Kensico Reservoir. We are pleased to work with New York State to correct this long-standing violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and protect public health.”

According to the allegations in the complaint, the settlement order filed with the court, and other public documents:

Defendants failed to ensure that the drinking water they deliver to approximately 120,000 Westchester County residents complied with federal limits for potentially carcinogenic disinfection byproducts from water treatment. Specifically, Defendants own and/or operate a public water system. During the first, second, and third quarters of 2019, the WJWW Water System violated the SDWA and its Tier 2 Disinfectant and Disinfection Byproducts Rule by delivering water that exceeded statutory limits for certain chemicals from the disinfection process—specifically, five regulated haloacetic acids, known as “HAA5.” Although the WJWW Water System took certain short-term actions to mitigate the risk to its consumers, Defendants failed to implement required corrective actions—including WJWW’s failure to construct and operate a filtration plant required by an EPA administrative order.

Compliance with the SDWA is not only a public health imperative but also an environmental justice issue. At least one of the communities that rely on the defendants' drinking water is overburdened and underserved and faces disproportionate environmental and other burdens.

The United States' complaint seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with the SDWA and the EPA's administrative order, including by constructing a filtration facility, as well as civil monetary penalties. The State of New York is simultaneously joining the complaint to assert its own claims under state law and a prior state court judgment requiring the construction and operation of a filtration facility.

In the Settlement Decision, the Defendants, among other things, admit, acknowledge and accept responsibility for the following:

  • WJWW directly supplies water to approximately 60,000 people in the Town/Village of Harrison, the Village of Mamaroneck, and the Town of Mamaroneck, and portions of the Town of Rye and the City of New Rochelle, and indirectly supplies drinking water to an additional approximately 60,000 residents of the Village of Larchmont, the Town of Rye, the Village of Rye Brook, and the Village of Port Chester.
  • The EPA has set the “maximum contaminant level” for the five regulated disinfection byproducts, known as HAA5, at 0.060 mg/L.
  • During the first, second, and third quarters of 2019, the WJWW water system contained water with HAA5 levels greater than 0.060 mg/L, as determined by testing conducted by WJWW and reported to EPA.
  • EPA issued an administrative order on November 26, 2019, requiring, among other things, WJWW to ensure compliance of the WJWW water system with DBPR Level 2 by constructing and operating a filtration facility by certain milestone dates. The administrative order required construction to begin by January 1, 2022.
  • WJWW has not yet started building a filter plant and does not operate one.

The settlement order requires the defendants to construct and place into operation a filtration plant by July 1, 2029. WJWW has publicly estimated the cost of the project at $138 million. The settlement order also sets various interim deadlines for the construction project and requires WJWW to continue to take steps to ensure the safety of its water supply until the filtration plant is operational.

The settlement also requires WJWW to pay a civil penalty of $600,000 to the United States and to spend at least $900,000 on a supplemental environmental project to remodel an expanded retention basin in the Rye Lake section of Kensico Reservoir and control invasive species in the area. This supplemental environmental project is designed to improve the quality of the reservoir's headwaters by reducing natural organic matter and turbidity.

The settlement resolves New York's claims to enforce a previous state judgment against WJWW for violating separate regulations requiring the installation of a filtration plant. In addition to constructing the filtration plant, the defendants will pay New York a civil penalty of $650,000 and spend at least $6,800,000 on two state water quality improvement projects.

The settlement order is subject to public comment and approval by the Court. Notice of the proposed settlement order will be published in the Federal Register and the public will have an opportunity to comment on the settlement order for at least 30 days before the parties seek approval by the Court.

Mr. Williams thanked the EPA Region 2 attorneys and enforcement officials for their important work on this matter. He also thanked the New York State Department of Health and the New York Attorney General's Office for their cooperation.

This case is being handled by the Environmental Protection Section of the Office's Civil Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel Dolinger and Tomoko Onozawa are in charge of the case.

You might also like

Comments are closed.