Sewer lines need to be repaired in Ross

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Sewage might run downhill, but officials say the cost of maintaining sewer lines in Ross Township won't go anywhere but up.

Sewer lines in Ross require serious repairs, and residents should expect rate increases in coming years, township manager Doug Sample said.

“We spend so much money on sewers and are going to spend so much more going forward,” Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer said at the Feb. 18 commissioners meeting. “I wouldn't be surprised if in time we spend more on sewers than everything else.”

Responsibility for the upkeep of Ross sewer lines is split by region between the township and the Girty's Run Joint Sewer Authority.

Throughout Ross, sewer rates have increased the past three years.

Residents on the township lines paid $2.25 per 1,000 gallons in 2012 and $3 per 1,000 gallons in 2013. They are paying $3.75 per 1,000 gallons this year.

Residents on the Girty's Run lines have paid $2.50 per 1,000 gallons since 2007.

Customers pay Alcosan's rate, as well, which was raised to $5.05 per 1,000 gallons in 2014, compared to $4.32 in 2013.

According to Alcosan estimates, that the average household uses 15,000 gallons of water per quarter. A Ross resident on a Girty's Run line with that usage pays $113.25 per quarter, while residents on a Ross line with that usages pays $132, which includes the Alcosan fee.

The township spent more than $600,000 on repairs last year and has allocated $30 million for maintenance to sewer lines over the next 15 years.

At the Feb. 3 Ross commissioners meeting, Dan McClain, treasurer of the Girty's Run Joint Sewer Authority, said bringing its lines up to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's standards could cost the authority as much as $26 million.

“This is a problem that exists in most communities in the region,” said John Schombert, executive director of 3 Rivers Wet Weather Inc., a nonprofit environmental organization based in Pittsburgh.

Schombert said his organization estimates that $500 million will be needed to repair trunk lines throughout the 83 communities Alcosan serves.

Trunk lines are large sewer pipes into which tributary branches feed. Municipal trunk lines generally feed into larger Alcosan sewers.

Officials from Girty's Run and Ross Township both hope to avoid some repair costs for trunk lines by passing their trunk-line maintenance responsibilities to Alcosan.

Alcosan is under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department to achieve compliance with the federal Clean Water Act during periods of wet weather.

Alcosan communities must upgrade their systems to reduce the amount of raw sewage spilling into creeks and rivers during wet weather.

When wet weather hits, storm drains overflow, and storm water mixes with sewage before running into creeks and rivers.

A Carnegie Mellon University study found that to come into compliance, Alcosan will need to regionalize and take control of trunk-line maintenance that now is the responsibility of municipalities.

Officials from 3 Rivers Wet Weather are working with those from Alcosan and municipalities to help facilitate the possible transfer of the trunk lines to create a regional wet-weather plan.

Girty's Run has been identified as a potential pilot for the regionalized plan, Schombert said.

“At the end of the day it doesn't matter if Alcosan or the township maintains the trunk lines. You're going to be paying for those repairs,” he said.

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