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Environment & Energy

Senate Bill Aims To Help Homeowners Afford Sewer Lateral Repairs

About 750 miles of sewer laterals, or the pipes that connect private homes to the publicly-owned main sewer lines, run underneath Pittsburgh – many of which are damaged.

That’s according to Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), who said repairing and replacing these pipes can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000, and that burden falls on the homeowners.

But he said his legislation aims to solve that problem.

“The bill that just passed through committee is a bill that would enable local municipalities and authorities to set up special funds to help private homeowners replace their laterals that are deficient and that are causing problems,” Fontana said.

Some of these problems include sinkholes and backflow.

Brendan Schubert, manager of external affairs at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), said the damaged sewers also cause something called infiltration and inflow, which basically means that a large volume of water is entering ALCOSAN’s system that was never intended to do so.

“When a sewer lateral or sewer main is cracked, and rain water or ground water that’s already underneath the ground infiltrates the pipe and it flows throughout the system to the ALCOSAN treatment facility,” Schubert said.

He noted a study conducted by Three Rivers Wet Weather stating that on a dry day, 40 percent of the flow that enters ALCOSAN is from infiltration and inflow - and that amount increases to 80 percent on a rainy day.

But he said this legislation would give them more control over what enters the system.

“A lot of the homes, they’re older homes, are over a hundred years old,” Fontana said. “These laterals are worn out, cracked, the inflow and outflow, it’s not working properly, it’s causing overflows in our streams and rivers.”

But Fontana admits raising the money would be up to the municipalities and authorities.

“We’re enabling the municipalities to try and find special funding maybe through foundations or special programs, whether it be a grant or a loan to try and help these homeowners rectify the situation,” Fontana said.

Schubert said PWSA has not yet determined how they would help with funding.

The Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy unanimously passed the bill Tuesday.  It awaits full Senate approval.