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Development & Transportation

New Stormwater Regulations Are Likely To Go Before Council This Summer

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Flickr user Chesapeake Bay Program
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Rain gardens are but one part of a stormwater management system.

Officials with the city and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority have known for years that the city must reduce storm runoff that surges into the sewer system, creating overflows and floods. And they are now beginning to advance regulatory changes through the city’s approval process.

Proposed changes to the city’s zoning code would shift more responsibility to big developers and landowners: people who disturb 10,000 square feet or more of land or create impervious surfaces -- those that shed rainwater into drains or nearby streams instead of being able to absorb it -- of 5,000 square feet or more. The stormwater management systems would have to hold more rainwater and, in some areas, release it more gradually. Developers and landowners would also have to factor in the pressures of climate change, said James Stitt, sustainability manager for PWSA.

The plans must incorporate models that “project out in 10, 20, 50 years what sort of stormwater management we may be faced with,” he said, based on data from Carnegie Mellon University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If a developer is unable to manage stormwater on site, the proposed code would require payment of $600,000 per acre -- money that would be spent to design, build, and manage stormwater off site.

Even if the rules are approved, most Pittsburghers won’t be directly impacted by them. But the hope is that they’ll see an indirect benefit from better regulation on large-scale development, said Marti Battistone, the city’s principal environmental planner.

“Improvements in stormwater runoff, in flooding, in basement backups -- all those things we know impact a lot of the homeowners across the city.” she said.

The changes are expected to go before city council this summer.

In addition to regulatory changes at the city level, PWSA is asking the state to allow the agency to charge a new stormwater fee.

The proposed cost will be based on the amount of impervious square footage on a property. Most homeowners will pay about $6 per month, said Tony Igwe, PWSA’s senior group manager for stormwater.

“The first thing it does short-term is make sure people who are generating stormwater are also chipping in to help pay for the management of it,” he said.

The request is under consideration by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which heard testimony about the fee, along with other elements of proposed rate changes, this week.