Alcosan prepares to petition EPA for affordable stormwater control
August 16, 2012 12:00 PM
The new operations and maintenance facility, top right, on the campus of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority located on the North Side.
By Don Hopey Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Permeable pavements, street and roof gardens, tree plantings and rain barrels should be used as "green infrastructure" as part of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority plan to prevent sewer overflows, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Councilman William Peduto said at a news conference Wednesday.
They also called for a more regional approach to keep raw sewage from overflowing during wet weather. The first public hearing is tonight on Alcosan's $2.8 billion plan that must be submitted to the federal government at the end of January 2013.
The green infrastructure could be used to prevent rain from getting into the sewer system, they said.
"Rainwater is not free. We're all paying for how we handle it," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "Alcosan, if it can divert some of it to green spaces, parks and gardens, won't have to pay to treat it."
The county officials stated their preferences on the eve of the first of 13 public meetings Alcosan will hold over the next two months to gather testimony on its proposed wet-weather control plan. The meeting is scheduled from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel on the South Side.
The Alcosan plan, required under a consent decree approved by federal court in 2008, focuses entirely on so-called "gray infrastructure," and includes construction of bigger collector pipes and two massive underground tunnels to store wet-weather sewer flows until they can be processed through an expanded Alcosan treatment facility.
It doesn't meet the requirements of the consent decree to prevent almost all sewer overflows, but Alcosan has said it will ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reopen the decree because the authority's customers can't afford all those repairs and improvements. That would cost an estimated $3.6 billion.
Alcosan has said it won't make that reopener request until after it submits a final plan, along with public comments collected during the 13 public meetings, to the EPA at the end of January 2013.
Nancy Barylak, an Alcosan spokeswoman, said the authority will make that request to "advocate for the $2 billion plan on behalf of our ratepayers."
Mr. Peduto and Mr. Fitzgerald spoke about their preference for green solutions to the region's sewer overflow problems on the corner of Maryland Avenue and Holden Street in Shadyside, where the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has started a $607,000 sewer reconstruction project to solve a local flooding problem caused by a collapsed sewer pipeline.
"They're putting in a new and bigger pipe to address five years of flooding," Mr. Peduto said, with bulldozers, dump trucks and replacement sewer pipes lined up behind him on Holden Street as a backdrop. "But this is a Band-Aid for a much bigger problem. We've got to figure out a way to keep the rainwater from going into the sewers."
Mr. Fitzgerald said a broader geographic and political approach that includes homeowners, municipal officials, developers and the construction industry is needed to stop the stormwater-caused sewage overflows into the region's rivers and streams almost every time it rains.
"This is not just an Alcosan problem and solution," he said. "It's a regional and watershed solution that's needed because all the region feeds into the Alcosan treatment plant."