The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has reached a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out $1.5 billion in infrastructure improvements and resolve allegations of Clean Water Act violations.

The agreement, lodged in U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico on Sept. 15, calls for PRASA to undertake a 35-year upgrade program, including $500 million for 100 "prioritization system capital projects" at wastewater treatment plants and the sludge treatment system; $138.9 million for 17 other wastewater treatment-plant projects; and $79 million for six other projects for sludge treatment systems.

Also part of the plan is $200 million for a spill response and cleanup plan to deal with sanitary-sewer and combined-sewer overflows and unauthorized pollutant releases from all PRASA's facilities.

John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general in charge of DOJ's environment and natural resources division, said in a statement, "These upgrades are urgently needed to reduce the public's exposure to serious health risks posted by untreated sewage."

The U.S. said it waived civil penalties against PRASA because of Puerto Rico's financial problems. Under the settlement, there is no admission of the federal allegations that PRASA violated the Clean Water Act and related permits, the authority said.

PRASA Executive President Alberto M. Lazaro Castro in a statement noted: "The consent decree recognizes the challenge that PRASA has toward environmental improvement as one of the ... largest and [most] complex utilities in the [U.S.]" PRASA owns 170 water and wastewater treatment facilities and over 20,000 miles of water pipelines and sewers and serves an area with a population of more than 3.5 million.

The new settlement updates and expands on similar earlier agreements.