All in favor of sewage accord between Allegheny Valley authority, regulators
A “wide-ranging” agreement between the Allegheny Valley Joint Sewage Authority and state and county health regulators will require the authority to take steps to prevent sewage overflows, control foul odors and better monitor and operate its system.
The Harmar-based authority has agreed to pay a $35,000 civil penalty for past violations. It agreed to pay fines if it fails to comply with the agreement and for future violations, including a $1,000 daily fine for overflows of untreated sewage.
The state Department of Environmental Protection released the agreement made by the DEP, the Allegheny County Health Department and the sewage authority on Friday. It was effective on Monday.
The authority board in late June accepted the agreement and approved paying the penalty, split between the Pennsylvania Clean Water Fund and the Allegheny County Environmental Health Fund.
Attorney Kevin Garber, the authority's special environmental counsel, called it a “fair settlement” to address the agencies' concerns about the sewage treatment plant.
“What it represents is several months of negotiation among the authority, the health department and the DEP resulting in an agreement that the authority board members signed and are prepared to do the work required by it,” Garber said.
Frequent effluent violations between August 2011 and March 2012 led to the agreement, which took about a year to put together, DEP spokesman John Poister said.
Although the violations have been corrected, Poister said regulators wanted assurances that “they have the systems in place to make sure they're monitoring the problem.”
“We consider this a major agreement. It covers every operational aspect of the sewage treatment plant,” Poister said. “It's a pretty wide-ranging agreement in terms of how it covers everything from odor control to taking wastewater from other sources.”
Garber said he was not aware if complying with the agreement would result in higher rates for the authority's customers.
“Construction is not part of this consent order and agreement,” he said. “At this point it is a ‘study consent order' and agreement under which the authority will study aspects of its system and evaluate next steps based on those results.”
What authority must do
Here's what's required of authority:
• The authority can't accept hauled-in waste for treatment at its plant, just hauled-in sewage.
In September 2011, the authority accepted a load of wastewater from the cleanup of a spill of industrial waste in Newell, Washington County. It contained pollutants the plant was not permitted to release into the Allegheny. The authority now only accepts hauled-in sewage from domestic sources, not industrial wastewater.
Hauled-in sewage can't interfere with the treatment process, pass through the plant untreated, or cause the release of too much partially treated sewage, odors or pollution.
• Within three months, the authority must submit a plan of how to reduce partially treated sewage releases into the river.
It also must submit an odor control plan.
The plan must include procedures for residents to contact authority personnel after hours, for authority personnel to respond to complaints in a timely manner, for evaluating odors at the site of complaints and for eliminating the odor sources.
Complaints of odors from the plant reaching nearby homes and roads date to 2007 and have been received every year except for 2010.
• Within four months, the authority has to implement a response plan for addressing sewage overflows throughout its system.
The plan must include procedures for common emergencies such as blocked sewers, manhole overflows, pipe breaks, pump station failure and basement flooding caused by public sewerage backups.
The authority must develop procedures to pump or capture sewage discharges no later than 24 hours after the overflow is discovered, and to clean up areas affect by an overflow.
• Within six months, the authority has to start to monitor its flow by installing meters at various locations in its system, including on overflow pipes at its five pump stations.
Flow monitoring will have to be done at each location for at least six months, including March, April and May — usually rainy months.
There are specific requirements for rainfall monitoring, including to start using rain gauges immediately.
A flow monitoring report is required. If sewage overflows occurred, the authority will have six months to submit a plan to eliminate them. Such a “wet weather plan” will have to be completed within three years of its approval. Within six months, the authority also must create a computerized map of its system.
• The authority will have about nine months to submit an operation and maintenance plan to the Allegheny County Health Department.
The authority will have to determine how to pay for implementing the plan.
It must submit projections for yearly and five-year capital expenses to the health department every March 31.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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