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Alcosan could study projects in Philly, Lancaster

| Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012, 11:38 p.m.

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority is seeking to remedy sewage overflows into the three rivers with a $2 billion plan that relies on large conveyance and storage tunnels and a new pump station.

Across the country, though, such approaches are changing and maybe nowhere more dramatically than in Lancaster and Philadelphia, where so-called green technology, once considered fringe and unreliable not long ago, will form the backbone of clean and modern water treatment, officials there said.

Lancaster's plan uses rain gardens, porous pavements, green roofs and wetlands to prevent large amounts of runoff water from even getting in to sanitary systems.

“This is not just better. It's saving lots of money,” said Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Lancaster's director of public works.

Green City, Clean Waters — Philadelphia's 25-year, $2 billion plan to manage stormwater through a similar approach — was developed by the Philadelphia Water Department and is now the largest green water treatment project in the country.

“This kind of technology has just never been deployed on this scale. By and large, green technology is the entire plan in Philadelphia. It really is a model for other cities,” said Brian Glass, general counsel for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The plan has attracted national attention from many in the water business, said Laura Copeland, a water department spokeswoman.

“We get a lot of inquiries about it from around the country,” she said.

Many communities have old, combined lines that transmit rainwater and sewage. The traditional solution to overflows during heavy rain is to build large tunnels that hold sewage-contaminated water until it can be sent to plants for treatment and discharge, Glass said. Green technologies get water at its initial source, but have not always been considered fully reliable, environmentalists and water treatment engineers say.

Last week, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority presented a $2 billion plan to sharply reduce sewage overflows into waterways during heavy rain. The authority rejected as too costly a $3.6 billion plan that would have eliminated such overflows during storms — which federal law requires it to do by 2026.

Both plans rely on construction of large conveyance and storage tunnels under the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

Alcosan wants the Environmental Protection Agency to reopen the 2008 consent decree that ordered the authority to come up with a plan to reduce sanitary sewer overflows.

Some environmental advocates say reopening negotiations on the consent decree with the federal government is a chance make the plan more green.

“When Alcosan started planning, they did not have the ability to do much with green infrastructure. Green has come into its own, so let's let the consent decree catch up with technology. This is something Alcosan will really have to push,” said Davitt Woodwell, vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

In Lancaster, installation of its green water treatment plan will save the city of 60,000 about $180 million Katzenmoyer said.

Originally, the city planned a long-term control water plan called for lots of “gray” projects, including building tunnels and upgrading and adding pump stations.

“We looked at the large cost and really thought that there's got to be a better way to do this. That's how we came up with a plan that includes green infrastructure,” Katzenmoyer said.

“The city is very old, so we did not really want to put new tunnels underneath everything,” she added.

Without tunnels, Lancaster would have needed to add four water storage tanks at a price of $70 million each. The city's green plan, which the EPA has approved, is expected to cost about $100 million, Katzenmoyer said.

Alcosan officials say they do not have the direct authority to force the 83 communities they serve to do so.

“We are not looking to put it on the table. We will do it where we can. That's something that needs to be looked at. But we cannot force municipalities to do it,” said Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak.

Yet environmentalists and many public officials say green technology of any kind has increasingly broad support from business and the public.

That was on display Saturday in Dormont, where Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future gave out green gadgets donated by businesses, including reusable tote bags, smart power strips, light bulbs that last as much as a decade, LED night lights, shower timers and sink aerators.

“People like saving energy and water. They probably like saving money even more,” said Evan Endres, the project's manager.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or

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