Sewer Overflow Plan Would Cost Pittsburgh Customers an Extra $100 a Year

Jul 31, 2013

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Wednesday submitted a $165 million plan to meet a 2002 federal mandate to reduce sewage overflows into Pittsburgh waterways.

“We’ve been working on the plan for a little over 10 years,” said Jim Good, PWSA’s interim executive director. “If you printed it out on paper the plan weighs 29 pounds.”

Good said the plan is “compliant gray,” but the authority went a step further. 

“We included a four-year first stage where we look at the effectiveness and efficacy of using green infrastructure in a specific part of the city, Saw Mill Run, to see how we can modify that plan going forward to include more green elements and if the data points that way less expensive for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to Good, the average customer’s annual bill would increase about $100.

But is “green” necessarily more expensive than “gray?” 

“Proponents of gray say, ‘Green will never work, why are you wasting your time and money,’ and the green people say, ‘You’re just a bunch of old engineers who want to pour concrete,’ we’re not playing that game,” Good said.

“We want to have real actual data gathered in real projects, in Pittsburgh, because one thing we do know about green is that it can vary significantly by soil type, elevation, a lot of different factors," he said. "So we want to look at those as they actually exist here in Pittsburgh and then because that data may exclude some areas, include some others, apply that to our whole plan.”

Tom Hoffman, Western PA Director for Clean Water Action, lauded the proposal.

“They not only sought public input on public investment, but then listened to the answers that they got and created a plan based on what stakeholders asked for — green solutions,” he said.

According to Good, phase one of the proposal involves $45 million in gray investments over the first 12 years on screening to prevent debris from clogging waterways and causing overflows. 

“Under any scenario, green, gray, chartreuse, we would do that because we need to be able to catch, tree limbs things like that — keep stuff out of the water,” he said.

The first phase also includes another $10 million for green infrastructure — natural drainage — such as rain gardens and permeable pavement.

According to Good, the data gathered from the green investment will help determine the level and focus of additional investments, as much as $120 million over the following 10 years. He said that might include larger sewer pipes and a large sewage holding tank, possibly in Highland Park.

“Obviously putting a sewage tank in a park raises another whole set of issues, that’s a proposal, none of this has been approved (by the DEP),” Good said. “That would be the proposed ideal location based on engineering factors. When you put in social and other factors that tank might move.”

If implemented as submitted, PWSA’s Wet Weather Feasibility Study is projected to reduce the volume and frequency of overflows by 95 percent. Good said he has no timeline for a response from the DEP and Allegheny County Health Department.