Alcosan submits massive stormwater plan to EPA

Authority seeks 'green' research

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Green roofs, permeable pavement and rain barrels aren't part of plans the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority submitted to the federal government to significantly reduce wet weather sewage overflows into the regions creeks and rivers, but they could be in 18 months.

Alcosan on Tuesday sent its $2.8 billion package of sewer system improvements to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and it is exactly the same plan that was unveiled last fall. That plan incorporated "grey" infrastructure improvements, such as bigger pipes and underground storage tunnels.

However, as part of its submission to the EPA, Alcosan asked for an 18-month extension to explore the feasibility of adding or substituting "green" infrastructure components to the plan.

"Based on feedback received at our public meetings last fall, we need to study the potential for green infrastructure -- locations, methods, responsible party, cost and -- most importantly -- the ability to meet regulatory compliance across the service area," Alcosan executive director Arletta Scott Williams said.

"The results of that study would then be incorporated into a final plan that the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department can approve."

The plan submitted by Alcosan will capture 79 percent of the combined sewer overflows. A plan to meet the requirements of the federal court-approved consent decree to eliminate almost all overflows would cost $3.6 billion, far more than the authority says its ratepayers can afford.

The lower priced plan would double the average sewer rates, which average $262 a year by 2026. The rates would triple if EPA requires the higher-priced improvement plan.

The EPA said last week that it "would be open to evaluating proposals from Alcosan" and flexible in setting deadlines for complying with Clean Water Act regulations. But it was not specifically responding to the Alcosan extension request, and no one for the agency's Region 3 office in Philadelphia had an opportunity to review the authority's plan or extension request Tuesday afternoon.

Nancy Barylak, an Alcosan spokeswoman, said the authority will "start the wheels in motion" soon to develop a scope of work for studying green infrastructure options and evaluate their feasibility and cost. She said the authority could hold a public meeting this spring to get more public input.

The Clean Rivers Campaign, an organization formed to promote use of green infrastructure to address the region's stormwater overflow problems, said it would ask the EPA to grant the extension. The organization also said it will insist that Alcosan produce a new plan incorporating a greener approach that allows stormwater to soak into the ground where it falls and channels less to Alcosan collector pipes and tunnels for storage. Proponents say a greener plan would cost less.

Alcosan has 320,000 customers in 83 municipalities, including the city of Pittsburgh, and treats an average of 200 million gallons of wastewater daily.

It is under a federal mandate to reduce the 9 billion gallons of storm-caused sewage overflows to less than 1 billion gallons a year. The overflows occur after 30 to 70 storms a year and can last for several days each.

mobilehome - breaking - region - environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published January 29, 2013 5:45 PM


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