Nearly 20 years after Pittsburgh was told it needed to do something about combined sewer overflows, the city and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority are still working on it. However, officials are getting closer.
On Wednesday, Pittsburgh City Council provided preliminary approval to the mayor’s office to work with PWSA to outline who will be responsible for various pieces of enforcing a shared stormwater plan.
Back when Pittsburgh’s infrastructure was new, having a combined sewer and stormwater system was considered ingenious: stormwater diluted the sewage and allowed it to be released into waterways. Times changed. In 2004, along with a lot of other old cities and towns across the country, Pittsburgh was told to cut it out.
Somewhere between nine and 15 billion gallons of a sewage-stormwater melange overflow into water sources in Allegheny County each year. It’s not that the city and PWSA haven’t been doing anything, it’s just that it’s pretty complicated and expensive to overhaul the system. (In 2008, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority was given the same marching orders by the U.S. Environmental protection Agency, and that consent decree was just finalized last year.)
In 2013, PWSA created a Wet Weather Feasibility study, and promised to cooperate with ALCOSAN. Three years later, the city and PWSA created a Citywide Green First Plan that emphasized using things like rain gardens to prevent stormwater from flowing into the sewer system in the first plan.
While those plans have had an impact, it hasn’t solved the combined sewer overflow problem, and so in the meantime, Pittsburgh and PWSA require a permit to violate the federal Clean Water Act.
As part of that permit process, the mayor’s office and PWSA have to hammer out who is responsible for what. Pittsburgh City Council gave a preliminary green light to that effort on Wednesday.
The work has been ongoing, said Jen Presutti, PWSA’s chief operating officer, the entities are just further defining their roles
“It's really just an outline of the permit and the city’s responsible for X, Y, Z, PWSA is responsible for X, Y, Z under these best management practices,” she said.
For instance, who will follow up with developers to ensure stormwater doesn’t flow into the sewer system?
It’s all part of a broader stormwater master plan that the two entities announced in October. The work will be used to update the city’s existing stormwater code, and eventually bring Pittsburgh into compliance with federal environmental standards.