Pittsburgh’s Wet Weather Problem

CSO figure

Figure showing how stormwater can cause a sewage overflow: Portland, OR Bureau of Environmental Services

Pittsburgh’s aging sewer systems are creating huge problems for our community. Many of our sewers carry both stormwater runoff and sewage, and with just small amounts of rain, our sewer system becomes overwhelmed and untreated wastewater flows directly into our rivers. Our rivers become so fouled with waste from these sewer overflows that it’s unsafe to even touch the water for roughly half of each year’s boating season. Sewers are also backing up in basements, and flooding in many areas is not an uncommon occurrence.

Under a court-ordered Consent Decree and Consent Orders – with federal, state and county agencies acting as plaintiffs – the ALCOSAN sewer authority, the City of Pittsburgh, and 82 additional municipalities must control the sewer overflows polluting our rivers.

Current Trajectory

Chicago tunnel

Deep storage tunnels are one proposed gray solution.
Photo: Chicago Tribune

How our sewer problems are fixed will significantly impact all rate payers required to cover the inevitably huge costs. ALCOSAN’s plan for fixing our problems is focused exclusively on the development of gray infrastructure (e.g., holding tanks, tunnels, new sewage plants). The cost of this proposed plan is estimated to be upwards of $2 billion, equating to 10%-12% annual rate increases for all ALCOSAN customers over the course of the plan.

The EPA responded to ALCOSAN’s proposed wet weather management plan on January 24, 2014 calling it “deficient”. The EPA stated the plan did not meet water quality goals outlined in the 2008 federal consent decree. This was not a formal disapproval of the plan and the EPA offered to meet with ALCOSAN about the deficiencies.

Time for a Course Correction

The Clean Rivers Campaign is working to ensure that the plan ultimately adopted to fix our sewers will incorporate as much green infrastructure possible, thereby ensuring:

  • Cleaner air to breathe and water to drink;
  • Lower, more equitably shared costs for ratepayers;
  • Revitalized business districts and communities;
  • Increased property values;
  • and more construction and permanent family-supporting jobs.

Green infrastructure, such as permeable streets and sidewalks, green roofs, trees, and rain gardens, uses vegetation and soil to manage rainwater where it falls.

Tree overlooking Pittsburgh

Trees are Nature’s best stormwater managers.
Photo: Tree Pittsburgh