NEW YORK (AP) — The federal government sued the city of Mount Vernon Thursday, saying it violated the Clean Water Act by failing to comply with rules meant to stop raw sewage from polluting waterways.

The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court was announced by a federal prosecutor and the regional head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Mount Vernon for years has discharged raw sewage and other pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx rivers.

"Mount Vernon has consistently failed to comply with permit requirements intended to prevent these discharges, and has flouted EPA administrative orders intended to address the problem," Berman said in a release.

"Today's lawsuit will protect the waters of this district by obtaining a judicial order compelling Mount Vernon to bring its sewers into compliance with the Clean Water Act," he said.

According to the lawsuit, Mount Vernon has failed to comply with the environmental law since at least January 2012.

The lawsuit seeks a court order compelling the city to comply with the law and an order imposing civil penalties.

At a news conference Thursday, Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas vowed to work with prosecutors and the EPA to solve the problem. He blamed inaction by the city council on the crisis.

"I need the public's help. Tell the council: 'Do your job.'" he said.

Thomas said 49 percent of the city lives at or below the poverty level.

"Part of the shame of the situation is that responsible actions could have avoided where we're at today and the crippling fines we face tomorrow," he said.

He said he had requested funds to get the necessary work done each year since 2016, but it has repeatedly been rejected, including at a meeting Wednesday night.

"The choice is compliance versus defiance," Thomas said.

With defiance, he added, comes "penalties, pollution and crushing taxes."