Around 40 percent of all the water treated by ALCOSAN is already clean, according to Jim Good, Interim Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
Clean rainwater and groundwater often make their way into the sewer system through leaks in lateral sewer lines, which run from the main line to individual buildings and homes.
“A hundred million gallons out of the 250 million gallons (ALCOSAN) get(s) on an average day is basically clean rainwater that you and I pay to treat,” Good said. “If we could tighten up the system (and) fix some of those private sewer laterals, that number would come way down.”
Good said that’s not the only problem associated with cracked and worn lateral sewer lines: they can also cause sinkholes and potholes. He said roughly half of the 750 miles of lateral sewer lines in Pittsburgh were installed before WWII and need to be repaired or replaced.
The challenge is that the lateral sewer lines are private property, and repairing them is the responsibility of the property owner. Good said repairing them can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $30,000.
Democratic state Rep. Dan Deasy, who represents part of Pittsburgh and its western suburbs, said he has heard from constituents whose houses are worth less than the cost of repairing their sewer laterals.
“If we don’t find a solution, people walk away from their house,” Deasy said. “Then we have other issues. We have social issues. We have vandalism issues. We have police issues. That’s last thing we need in our neighborhoods, so I think it’s important to note the cost of not doing anything.”
Deasy and other members of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee met in Pittsburgh Monday to learn about the issues related to lateral sewer line leakage.
Rep. Harry Readshaw, a Democrat who represents parts of Pittsburgh and its southeastern suburbs, introduced two pieces of legislation to address the problem last month. House Bills 703 and 704 would permit municipalities to directly address lateral sewer line leakage.
“This legislation … would allow us to make those repairs and use public funds to do it for the first time ever, and not keep the responsibility and the liability for the sewer lateral with the agency,” Good said. “It would be a one-time fix and then the homeowner takes responsibility from that point on.”
The two bills are currently in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.