Water bills in Allegheny County are on the rise again. The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) released a four-year rate structure Thursday that begins with a 17 percent rate increase next year and then keeps growing. In the past the rates have always been released on a year-to-year basis.
“Why they decided to do [the four-year plan] was to provide some stability, not only for the organization and our planning purposes, but to our rate payers and businesses who always want to know what our rate increases are going to be,” said ALCOSAN spokesperson Nancy Barylak.
Customers currently pay $4.32 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Starting January first that number goes to $5.05. In 2015, 16 and 17 the rate will increase an additional 11 percent each year. The quarterly customer service charge will also be increased by the same percentages.
ALCOSAN said the increase is needed to cover the cost of $70 million in bonds used to pay for a number of capital projects including an upgrade to the main pump station at the plant, the installation of grit chambers to collect sediment, and the addition of new flap gates at the end of discharge pipes.
The authority has hired an outside firm to help set the rates and find savings whereever possible.
“There are a number of positions that will remain unfunded, there have been a lot of cut backs, there is no travel,” said Barylak who called the effort belt tightening. “The cost of just doing business is pretty much set for processing waste water and we’re controlling costs on the administrative end.”
Barylak said consumers also should be aware that 80 of the 83 communities ALCOSAN serves place an additional charge on the ALCOSAN rates with proceeds earmarked for community-owned sewer line repair, replacement and maintenance. Those lines feed into the ALCOSAN system.
ALCOSAN is still looking at an estimated $2.6 billion in additional infrastructure improvements as it tries to come into compliance with federal consent decrees that calls for the end of the release of raw sewage into the region’s rivers on rainy days by 2026. Details of that plan are still being hashed out with the federal Department of Environmental Protection.
“One of the things we are trying to do is get as much capacity into the system as we can,” said Barylak who expects the plant to eventually move from the current 250 million gallons a day capacity to 675 million gallons a day. “What we have also proposed is a series of more interceptor lines and these new lines will be acting also as tunnels to hold the extra flow until we have the capacity to treat it.”
ALCOSAN is also looking at the use of green infrastructure solutions, but Barylak said those solutions are not yet empirically proven as to their effectiveness so it is hard to add them to a federal proposal that must be fully measurable.
“We have said reputedly that it would be a series of rate increase just about every year, slow and steady if you will,” said Barylak who sees those increases continuing well past 2026.