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PWSA Unveils First Draft for Massive Regional Sewer Overhaul

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) briefed City Council Wednesday on a preliminary plan to overhaul the region's sewer systems.

According to PWSA officials, not only will the project be expensive, but it will also require new sewage agreements between Pittsburgh and scores of other municipalities.

In order to catch up with new regulations from the federal government, Pittsburgh and its neighboring municipalities must add new sewer lines and storage tanks to prevent "combined sewer overflow" (CSO) from spilling out of sewage systems after heavy rainfall.

The total cost could range from $164 million to $277 million, depending on how much is built. For example, a $164 million plan woud allow five CSO events per year; meanwhile, the most expensive proposal would aim to entirely prevent CSO events for at least the next decade.

PWSA consultant John Maslanik said it's going to be hard to determine how much each of the 83 municipalities involved is going to pay. He said the best approach might be to charge each for its own usage.

"You identify who the [sewage] facilities serve, and how much flow from each of the affected municipalities is conveyed through that facility," said Maslanik, "which ties to the size of the facility, which is directly related to its cost."

Creating such agreements will lead to a lot of headaches for Pittsburgh and its neighbors, according to City Councilman Patrick Dowd.

"Can we really afford — and I mean that financially and otherwise — can we really afford to have 83 municipal systems?" questioned Dowd. "Can we really believe, honestly, that we could have intermunicipal agreements signed and actually followed?"

Dowd and other Council Members hinted that it might be best to unite municipal sewer systems under a single management entity, particularly with such an overhaul on the horizon.

The PWSA, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, and many municipalities all must submit their "wet weather plans" to the federal Environmental Protection Agency before August of 2013.

The PWSA estimates the entire regional project will be finished in 2026.