WPCNR WATER NEWS. By John F. Bailey. August 10, 1013:
Earlier this week, David Simms, spokesperson for the Westchester County Department of Communications, told WPCNR the lawsuit filed in Federal Court in White Plains by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleging the county of violating the was “ a complete surprise to the county,” and that White Plains and Scarsdale drinking water is safe because the EPA has never cited the water as being unsafe to drink (as a result of the ultraviolet testing failure to comply as of yet).
Simms added that the county had told the EPA they would be unable to meet the deadline of putting ultraviolet treatment into effect because the cost of running a line to the Mount Pleasant reservoir to bring White Plains and Scarsdale ultraviolet-treated water was approximately $100 Million and the county was seeking a less expensive solution. Simms said the county never heard back from the EPA.
Herbert Hadad, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told WPCNR the law suit filed Tuesday being a surprise was not exactly true.
Hadad said the U.S. Attorney’s office had been in discussions with the county on issues concerning the county’s being charged with violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The exact charge in the suit accuses the county that “Westchester, through its Water District No. 1, has failed to comply with an SDWA rule that requires municipal drinking water suppliers to treat all unfiltered surface water for Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite. Cryptosporidium can cause cryptosporidiosis, a potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness in humans with symptoms that include diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps. There is no known treatment for cryptosporidiosis, and symptoms may persist for two weeks or longer in otherwise healthy adults and can be life-threatening for more vulnerable individuals.”
Simms, confronted with this comment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, acknowledged that in December of 2012, eight months ago, the county was presented with a consent order by the Department of Justice that the County was asked to sign admitting they had failed to comply with the ultraviolet light treatment directive and had missed the deadline for compliance. Simms told WPCNR, the county refused to sign the consent order because the county attorneys objected to the county being described as a purveyor of water, which is actually purchased from New York City, or a supplier, or seller of water.
Simms acknowledged that negotiations over what he described as legal definitions and “standing”. Simms said the county also did not want to sign a consent order acknowledging non-compliance and opening itself up to massive fines, over
Last month, Simms said Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett went to the Environmental Protection Agency and explained the $5 Million solution the county has devised to run a spur line from the Kensico Dam Delaware Acqueduct to White Plains and Scarsdale to bring the county into compliance.
Simms said at that time Mr. Plunkett asked the EPA for an extension to implement the $5 Million plan, which Plunkett explained in detail. Simms told WPCNR the plan, if the County Board of Legislators passed the funding request (which Simms said the County Board has had since April), could be completed by next summer.
Simms said the EPA did not react one way or another to Plunkett’s request for an extension. The county, Simms said had already made fixes to Yonkers and Mount Vernon the other two communities in District 1.
The next thing that happened was the filing of the law suit August 7.
WPCNR asked Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, John Martin why the EPA would not grant an extension for the county to implement the treatment, and why since the county has devised a solution, would it not withdraw its lawsuit, and set up a timetable for the compliance. Mr. Martin said the EPA would not comment because the suit is a Justice Department matter.
He referred me to Herbert Hadad, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I asked Hadad if once a U.S. Suit was brought, whether it had to be decided by a Judge who manufactures a settlement , and brought to a conclusion, or whether the originating plaintiff could asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to drop the suit, or settle the suit by setting up a terms of compliance.
I also asked him if the EPA and the Justice Department would declare the White Plains water and Scarsdale water “safe” to drink at this time.
Haddad said, “The Office declines to comment.”
The suit has to be responded to by the county within 21 days (approximately August 28).
Simms said the county would be seeking a dismissal bec;ause the county feels it has no “standing” in the matter; is not a seller of water; and does not own the water, and would argue the suit “has no merit.”
Fines if imposed, on the county from April 2012, if the “fix” was completed by summer, 2014, would amount to 790 days which would equal $30 Million. (at $37.50 a day), still about $70 Million less expensive than the original running of pipe to Mt. Pleasnt solution,