Details of a $2 billion plan to manage sewer and storm water issues throughout Allegheny County were released Thursday by officials from Alcosan.
The long-awaited Clean Water Plan has been in development since 2008, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree. It mandated that Alcosan make improvements to manage untreated wastewater that overflows into area waterways when the system’s treatment plant becomes overloaded.
The updated Clean Water Plan extends the time frame for achieving compliance from 2026 to 2036. Alcosan Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams characterized itas an attainable, affordable plan that incorporates green technology.
“We’re approaching this in steps, in stages, in phases,” Williams said. “The extended schedule is what creates the opportunity to investigate green, and invest in green more fully.”
Earlier drafts of the plan were rejected by the EPA for being too costly — around $3.6 billion — and failing to treat enough wastewater overflow. By 2015, progress stalled even as Alcosan raised rates to pay for the plan and worked to renegotiate terms to allow for more flexibility that would allow Alcosan to implement new technologies as they become available.
“Successful implementation of the green measures will enable Alcosan to reduce the amount of gray infrastructure, such as pipes and tunnels, that it must construct, and ultimately protect public health and the environment in the long term,” said Cosmo Servidio, regional administrator for the EPA. “EPA’s method to achieving that goal is being flexible about how communities can meet federal requirements of the Clean Water Act.”
Though the new plan is projected to cost $2 billion, Williams said she could not say whether the cost could change as Alcosan works toward compliance over the next several years.
“Nothing at this point is cast in stone, in terms of how we achieve,” Williams said. “The need to achieve the goal remains the same: We have to be compliant, we have to meet the standards, but how we get there and how we spend that $2 billion can be altered.”
It is certain that Alcosan customers will see a rate increase of 7% each year for 2019, 2020 and 2021 in order to pay for the plan.
By 2021, an average customer will pay $513 per year, or $42.75 per month, by 2021, according to estimates provided by Alcosan.
Alcosan serves much of Allegheny County — treating wastewater for 83 communities, including the City of Pittsburgh — and is funded primarily by ratepayers. Customers of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority pay Alcosan charges through their PWSA bill.
The plan includes steps already underway to increase the capacity of the Alcosan wastewater treatment plant on the Ohio River and for Alcosan to take over portions of municipal sewer lines throughout the county.
It also includes $200 million to support municipal projects, including about $22 million already disbursed to municipalities through the existing Green Revitalization of Our Waterways program.
Williams touted plans to implement green infrastructure, including bioswales and rain gardens, but advocates said the plan doesn’t go far enough.
“The largest public works project in our history must include more money to reduce flooding and landslides, create local jobs and revitalize our neighborhoods with green solutions,” Aly Shaw, an environmental justice organizer with Pittsburgh United, said in a statement. “As a community, we can do better than this plan.”
The plan will likely include tunneling around rivers to expand the system’s conveyance and storage capacity, but details related to where they will go or how large they will be are not yet available, Williams said.
The Clean Water Plan will be available for public comment for the next 60 days and is available online at alcosan.org.
After that, it must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.