Under Agreement with EPA, US Forest Service Closes 77 Pollution‑Causing Cesspools

Cesspool Closures in Arizona and California to Increase Healthy Watersheds Across Landscapes

SAN FRANCISCO – Under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the USDA Forest Service closed 77 large-capacity cesspools (LCCs) it operated in Arizona and California. The Forest Service met the deadlines set forth in the agreement and closed the cesspools, which can be sources of harmful water pollution, in 11 national forests across the two states.

Cesspools collect and release untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater and surface waters that are sources of drinking water. Although EPA banned LCCs – which serve 20 or more people per day or serve a multi-unit residential building — under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, the Forest Service continued to operate LCCs in national forests after the closure deadline. When EPA identified these cesspools in 2016, the Forest Service agreed to close these units under an administrative order on consent with enforceable deadlines and completed the closures by Dec. 30, 2020.

“Agencies have a responsibility to protect sources of drinking water from pollution-causing cesspools,” said Acting EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Deborah Jordan. “The Forest Service’s closure of large capacity cesspools will benefit Arizona and California communities and the environment.”

“We are grateful for U.S. EPA’s partnership in helping us protect the billions of gallons of water that originate on and move across our forests,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore, USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region. “Efforts like this enable us to be better stewards of the land while prioritizing the safety of local communities which rely on healthy and resilient landscapes and watersheds.”

In Arizona, the Forest Service closed 15 LCCs at the Tonto, Coconino, Kaibab, and Apache–Sitgreaves National Forests at a cost of $166,000. In California, the USDA Forest Service closed 62 LCCs at the Angeles, Eldorado, Inyo, Los Padres, Plumas, Sierra, and Tahoe National Forests, which cost approximately $1.4 million to close the LCCs and install replacement systems.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA protects underground sources of drinking water through the Underground Injection Control program including the LCC regulations. EPA issues compliance orders and/or penalties to violators of the Safe Drinking Water Act.