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Stormwater Utilities Might Become More Popular

On days when the region sees heavy rain, many creeks and streams jump their banks and a slew of sewage systems overflow, pumping raw waste into the region's rivers. The federal government is trying to eliminate those overflows and has entered into consent decrees with many of the region's sewage utilities.

The repairs and upgrades required by the decrees will cost the region billions of dollars. Much of that will be born by the customers, but Mt. Lebanon has created a storm water utility that assesses a flat fee on every home and a fee on commercial property based on how much impermeable surface is on their land. The collections go into a special fund created to maintain some 75 miles of sewers, drains, curbs and gutters.

"For example, a parking lot… is really not a customer of the water and sewer authority, yet when it rains real hard, surface runoff from that lot uses up an enormous amount of the capacity in the public sewer system," said John Schombert, Three Rivers Wet Weather Executive Director. "So this is a way of providing some cost sharing to those entities that actually contribute to some of our combined sewer overflow problem."

Municipalities in other states have been using similar fees for years. Philadelphia started using its fee about a year ago. Mt. Lebanon created a utility and implemented a fee rather than a tax in an effort to retain the ability to include nonprofit landholders. However, some nonprofit groups are trying to fight that assumption in court.

Schombert says that as municipalities and sewage authorities begin to consider the idea, many are thinking about using the fees not only to build money for infrastructure improvements, but also to use it as an incentive to help landowners reduce the amount of storm water runoff by adding green infrastructures.

Three Rivers Wet Weather encourages the use of green roofs, permeable pavement, and storm water retention features.

Schombert said that often the fees are phased in over time to allow large landowners to begin the process of installing such infrastructure before a whopping bill shows up in the mail.

The Mt. Lebanon fee is $8 a month for a private home. The first four-month bill was due in September and the next will be due in January.