The St. Croix Environmental Association and others are suing to force the V.I. Waste Management Authority to move faster on using clean, treated wastewater from Anguilla Water Treatment Plant for non-drinking uses such as farm, golf course and landscape irrigation. WMA Director May Adams Cornwall has responded the WMA is already doing so.
The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court on St. Croix, argues that WMA is in violation of a 2007 settlement agreement with SEA and others because the Anguilla plant is discharging treated water into the sea south of the plant.
Since 1984, the plant has been under a consent decree from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade its facilities and increase the level of treatment. SEA and several others filed suit in 2005 while plant upgrades were being planned. Major upgrades to the plant were completed in 2007, adding a secondary level of treatment that leaves the effluent almost but not quite potable, bringing the facility much closer to satisfying the decree. That same year, SEA and WMA signed onto a settlement agreement and the suit was dismissed, pending fulfillment of the agreement, which calls for WMA to completely stop discharging treated fresh (not salty) water into the ocean, diverting all of it to land-based use.
In the suit, SEA's attorneys argue that WMA is in violation of the intention of part of the agreement that says it will stop all discharges of treated water within three years of renewal of its Territorial Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TIPDES) permit and must meet several benchmarks by some earlier dates triggered by the permit. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources has not issued a new TIPDES permit, so the three-year clock has not been triggered yet, according to SEA's filing. SEA is arguing that WMA "failed to prosecute the ... application with due diligence," that DPNR is culpable for not issuing the permit quickly, and the court should compel DPNR and WMA to appear and justify not issuing the permit. SEA wants the court to set up a process compelling WMA to fulfill the settlement agreement and impose fines if it does not meet court-established benchmarks.
"We applied for the permit well over two years ago, at the end of the construction of the new plant," Cornwall said in response Saturday. "We've done everything in our power to move this along."
Setting up infrastructure to distribute the water is one major hurdle to immediately using the discharge water for land-based uses, she said.
"We have submitted for that funding every year ... but haven't been successful in getting it yet," she said.
She's hopeful federal stimulus funding for green projects might be available this year.
"Any water reuse displaces potable water that would otherwise have had to be used, so it would have to be a green project, and for that reason maybe it will be this year," she said.
Cornwall vigorously disputes the claim that WMA has not been working to find alternative uses for the treated water.
"We are in serious negotiations with Diageo for them to use some of the water, and we've gotten some interest in just the last few weeks from St. Croix Renaissance Group," Cornwall said. "If we can respond to all the apparent demand, we would use all the wastewater and have zero discharge."
WMA has not yet filed a formal response to the suit, and no court date has been set for consideration.