The city of Pittsburgh and 24 upstream municipalities would have to spend $165 million to $277 million to meet requirements for controlling sewage overflows into the region's rivers, an engineering firm said Wednesday, painting a picture of a monumental public works project that consumers would struggle to fund.
The actual cost would depend on the type and number of capital projects, according to the report presented to city council by Chester Engineers, a consultant to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. The city and PWSA share of the total would range from $111 million to $213 million, depending on the work performed and the cost-sharing arrangement worked out with the other municipalities, said John Maslanik, an engineering firm representative.
"The city's chunk is huge," said Councilman Patrick Dowd, who convened Wednesday's meeting so that he and his colleagues could learn the status of planning efforts.
The mandates potentially mean the construction of 16 or so miles of new sewer lines in the city alone, plus construction of a 6 million-gallon underground storage tank in the city's Washington Boulevard area, Mr. Dowd said. The tank would capture sewage during storms and release it into the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority system at controlled rates, he said.
As ambitious and costly as the ideas may be, the city, PWSA and 24 municipalities represent only a moderate part of a huge effort to stop sewage overflows that pollute the rivers.
In all, Alcosan and 83 municipalities in its service area could have to spend $2 billion to meet federal, state and county requirements to control the overflows. Alcosan's share could top $1.5 billion and the municipalities' share, $500 million.
Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak provided those estimates Wednesday and said the agency on July 31 will present additional details of its plan to control overflows. Alcosan did not participate in the city council meeting.
Alcosan is under a federal, state and county consent decree to reduce sewage overflows, while the 83 municipalities are under state and county orders to do so. Alcosan must submit its final improvement plan by January, and the municipalities must submit their own final plans by next July, Ms. Barylak said.
Alcosan and the municipalities also face a 2026 deadline for completing the work. Before that, they would have to figure out how to pay for it.
"Right now, it's going to fall on the backs of the ratepayers," said John Schombert, executive director of Three Rivers Wet Weather, a nonprofit group that helps municipalities with sewage and flooding problems.
The federal government does have affordability standards, he said, noting Alcosan and municipalities may use any such wiggle room to request additional time to complete improvements and the discretion to prioritize projects.
In many communities, sewage overflows occur when heavy storms overwhelm sewers. The sewage goes into the rivers and other undesirable places.
"People have raw sewage going into their basements on a regular basis," said Councilman Bill Peduto, who represents East End neighborhoods with chronic flooding problems.
Alcosan has been under federal orders to control sewage overflows since 2007. Officials long have regarded 2026 has a time of reckoning, but they've had a difficult time grabbing residents' attention.
Because of logistical complexities, the city, PWSA and 24 upstream municipalities should consider forming a single governmental entity to implement their plans, Mr. Dowd said. In all, he said, the city, its water and sewer authority, and the upstream municipalities could have to build 24 miles of new sewer lines, about two-thirds of them within city limits.
The engineering firm noted that meeting the sewage-overflow mandates is a separate issue from flood-control projects officials have discussed for various city neighborhoods.
Last August, four people died in a flash flood on Washington Boulevard. The water and sewer authority later commissioned a study of stormwater management improvements for that and other watersheds.
While controlling sewage overflows is important, so is overall flood-control work, Mr. Peduto said, calling on municipalities to collaborate on that issue, too. "Water doesn't know political boundaries," he said. "It just flows downhill."neigh_city
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.