Puerto Rico, U.S. settle storm water issues

WASHINGTON Puerto Rico will spend $77 million to upgrade its water infrastructure in a settlement with the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday. Three of the U.S. territorial island's agencies reached the settlement affecting storm water systems in San Juan that are currently releasing, daily, an estimated 6 million gallons of untreated sewage into waterways in and around San Juan in violation of the Clean Water Act."These structural and operational improvements to the storm water infrastructure are critical and desperately needed for the public health and well-being of San Juan's residents," John Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in the statement.The settlement comes as Puerto Rico struggles to come up with enough cash to service its debt load of roughly $72 billion.Wednesday's settlement resolves the civil claims of the United States for the violations alleged in its complaint against Puerto Rico filed in 2014. "The settlements are related to an agreement with the Municipality of San Juan that was announced on Oct. 26, 2015, in which San Juan agreed to take actions to upgrade its separate storm sewer system," the announcement said. That agreement called for the city of San Juan to invest $180 million to upgrade its system.Upgrades to the water infrastructure will be carried out by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Department of Transportation and Public Works from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority. Penalties will be incurred if the work is not carried out on schedule, according to the consent decree issued by the Justice Department. They could reach up to $1,500 per day per certain violations that are more than 120 days overdue.The goal of the new water treatment infrastructure is to eliminate or minimize sewage and pollutants being discharged into waters around San Juan, the Candado Lagoon, the Martin Pena Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. On Jan. 1, the Puerto Rico faces approximately $1 billion in debt payments on various bonds. On Tuesday, Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, said it was "very, very unlikely" there will be no default on its debt and that it was evaluating which bonds are to be paid. (Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Daniel Bases in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)