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Panel recommends more consolidation of sewer and wastewater systems in Allegheny County

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:27 p.m.

The planned $2 billion in federally required sewer upgrades likely will force dozens of Allegheny County municipalities and agencies to consolidate their wastewater treatment and stormwater and sewer lines, a regional panel said Friday as it issued its final report.

If the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (Alcosan) and the 83 municipalities it serves do not cooperate with each other, the price tag will balloon and there could be federal fines.

“This is going to cost a boat-load of money. We need to do this wisely,” said Patricia Schaefer, president of the Edgewood borough council and a member of the Sewer Regionalization Review Panel assembled two years ago by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The group, which spent two years developing recommendations, calls for transfer of inter-municipal sewer lines and wastewater control facilities to Alcosan, consolidation of wastewater control systems and appointment of a coordinator by Allegheny County to oversee the task of bringing the area's antiquated water treatment systems into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

“This time is different. We have this consent decree hanging over us,” Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University and president of the panel, said of the need for regional coordination.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a member of the panel, said that failing to follow its recommendations could make the big price tag even larger.

“If we don't cooperate, this will cost even more money and the federal government will fine the heck out of us,” he said.

Shaler Manager Tim Rodgers said the panel's recommendations will make it easier for municipalities to comply with federal regulations and will also mean less work for municipal officials.

“The transfer of the primary mains makes sense for the municipalities and for Alcosan. If Alcosan takes these over, it takes a lot of work off of our plate. They will be able to manage the flow, and any future facilities that are needed will be built by Alcosan,” he said.

In January, Alcosan asked the federal government for an 18-month extension to modify its plan to comply with a federal consent decree, in effect since 2007. The modifications could incorporate green infrastructure in the upgrades.

Many water authorities across the country, such as Philadelphia's, manage everything, which Alcosan director Arletta Scott Williams said would make things easier here.

“A single entity managing that process is much more efficient. There are 83 communities that are responsible for street sewers here,” she said.

Alcosan owns 90 miles of wastewater lines and a North Side plant that can treat 250 million gallons of water a day. In the communities it serves, there are more than 4,000 miles of smaller sewer lines.

If a single water authority is ideal, other cities have nonetheless overcome municipal fragmentation, said Jennifer Kennedy, director of the Clean Rivers Campaign, a coalition of six nonprofits in Pittsburgh.

“These recommendations are a great step toward being able to cooperate. Milwaukee and Cincinnati are cities that have developed plans across municipalities and are both doing innovative green projects,” she said.

Green technology makes use of rain gardens, porous pavement, green roofs and wetlands to prevent rainwater from entering sanitary systems, which causes sewer overflows into the rivers.

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

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