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Mayor Peduto, members of Clean Rivers Campaign see 'green' in rainfall

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Emily Alvarado, Interim Director of the Clean Rivers Campaign, speaks at a meeting with ALCOSAN's Board members about the upcoming rate increases.

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Sewage overflow plan awaits approval

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority has not yet heard from the Environmental Protection Agency about approval of its wet-weather plan to prevent sewage overflows into the county's rivers and streams.

The EPA has until Jan. 30 to respond to Alcosan. The sewer authority submitted its $2 billion plan a year ago.

Alcosan expects to spend $3.6 billion over 20 years to fully comply with EPA requirements.

Nancy Barylak, Alcosan's spokeswoman, said the authority responded to requests from the EPA for more information throughout the year. The EPA last requested additional technical data from Alcosan in December, Barylak said.

Alcosan expects to hear from the EPA by the deadline or in early February, Barylak said. Any delay by the EPA will push back the 2026 deadline for Alcosan to complete the work.

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

Instead of stormwater rushing through enormous subterranean tunnels, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto envisions canals winding next to bike lanes in Hazelwood and Lawrenceville and stormwater retention ponds in Larimer, Garfield and Homewood.

Instead of “grey” stormwater infrastructure, Peduto favors “green.”

That's what he and members of the Clean Rivers Campaign want to see included in the $2 billion Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (Alcosan) stormwater system upgrade aimed at reducing the estimated 9 billion gallons of sewage overflows that annually run into the region's waterways during heavy rainfalls. Though canals are not typical, “daylighting” of stormwater infrastructure often includes catching and processing rainfall by using permeable pavement, stormwater management planters, rain gardens and bioswales.

“It's the largest public works project we'll ever see in our lifetime, or in our children's lifetime,” Peduto said. “All these areas where big pipes are to be underground, I'd like to be able to see them above ground.”

But Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak said green infrastructure solutions were not included in the plan submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency because of a lack of hard data on their success, combined with the time frame to comply with the federal court order triggering the upgrade.

“Across the country, there's no real way of testing that yet,” she said. “We were under a deadline of just a few years to get this plan in, and the plan is to address water quality.”

The Clean Rivers Campaign and some ratepayers are concerned the Alcosan plan is too costly and worry about the impact dramatic rate increases tied with the improvements will have on the region's lower-income households. They attended the Alcosan board meeting on Thursday to urge the board to form a customer assistance program to help poor families facing rate increases of 17 percent beginning this month and nearly 60 percent total over four years.

Emily Alvarado, interim director of the Clean Rivers Campaign, said before the meeting that utilities, other cities and authorities have customer assistance programs. The programs improve nonpayment rates and save costs associated with collections and service disconnections and the working capital associated with arrears, she said.

“We need to make sure that low-income families are not hurt by this federally mandated fix. It's good for public health, it's good for families and it's good for municipalities to make sure that our lowest income neighbors maintain sanitary water and wastewater service,” Alvarado said.

In the meantime, Barylak said Alcosan is still waiting on EPA approval of its consent decree plan submission a year ago. The authority has a green infrastructure study scheduled for completion by December and the 83 municipalities who feed into the countywide system can pursue green solutions in concert with Alcosan or on their own, she said.

“I think it's just a matter of how it will be implemented,” she said.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has plans for a $9 million green infrastructure plan in the Saw Mill Run watershed to address raw sewage overflow. Melissa Rubin, authority spokeswoman, said the plan is still being drafted, but is funded through 2018.

Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, said green stormwater solutions on a citywide scale have yet to be seen through. Philadelphia is in the third year of a 25-year plan to implement a green infrastructure, though such systems still require pipes, pumps and a treatment plant. Overall, Levine said, green infrastructure brings benefits to local economies.

Levine's research shows consumers are willing to pay 8 to 12 percent more for products at a shopping plaza with green additions like a tree canopy. At a 32-unit apartment building, a green roof and 12 large trees contribute to a $37,500 jump in property value.

As for the type of retention pond basins Peduto envisions in vacant lots throughout the city, Levine said they're a “creative repurposing” for spaces where the land and funding allow it.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or

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