ALCOSAN

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Alcosan rates are set to increase 11 percent in 2016 and again in 2017, and activists with the Clean Rivers Campaign and Action United are calling on the sanitary authority to implement a Customer Assistance Program, or CAP, to help low-income rate payers.

Activists held a rally in Market Square Monday afternoon, handing out fliers alerting passers-by to “skyrocketing sewer rates.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner on Tuesday announced she has filed legal action against four county authorities that she said are refusing to allow her office to conduct performance audits.

Wagner is seeking to audit the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (SEA), the Allegheny County Port Authority, and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN).

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner Wednesday threatened to take four county agencies to court for refusing to comply with her requests and delaying audits launched by her office.

Wagner wants to examine the contracting processes used by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (Alcosan), as well as the distribution of free tickets by the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA).

Faced with implementing a $2 billion sewer overflow project, ALCOSAN is turning to the community for help.  It is hosting a series of community discussions focusing on the issue that affects all 83 municipalities under ALCOSAN.

In 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree which requires the agency to create a plan to fix sewer overflow in the region.

Where does the sewage go when you flush your toilet?

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority will show you that and more Saturday at its annual open house, featuring more than 40 exhibits about how to protect the region’s rivers and streams.

The event includes a Q&A session with a plumber, Environmental Jeopardy, a performance of "Little Mermaid’s Pollution Solution" by Gemini Theatre, a walk-through simulated sewer pipe and a tour of ALCOSAN’s facilities.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Instead of overflowing sewer systems and creating flooding, a new project will take rain water and use it to maintain a newly planted meadow in Schenley Park.

Officials from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, ALCOSAN and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) announced Thursday the construction of two green rain water management projects in the park in Oakland.

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree to the Pittsburgh region to eliminate sewage contamination entering local rivers and streams.

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Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said Wednesday that he didn’t find any evidence of nepotism at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority in his latest performance audit, but the perception of such favoritism is hurting the organization.

“There’s this continuing perception that everything at ALCOSAN is pay-to-play, whether it’s contracting, personnel hiring, any of these issues,” Lamb said. “We wanted to get in and make sure these procedures are in place, because we know ALCOSAN is going to grow over the next 20 years.”

About 750 miles of sewer laterals, or the pipes that connect private homes to the publicly-owned main sewer lines, run underneath Pittsburgh – many of which are damaged.

That’s according to Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), who said repairing and replacing these pipes can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000, and that burden falls on the homeowners.

But he said his legislation aims to solve that problem.

Around 40 percent of all the water treated by ALCOSAN is already clean, according to Jim Good, Interim Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Clean rainwater and groundwater often make their way into the sewer system through leaks in lateral sewer lines, which run from the main line to individual buildings and homes.

3 Rivers Wet Weather

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority plans to spend more than $2 billion to build miles of new underground tunnels, and to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant.

Some clean river advocates are pushing for alternatives, like green infrastructure.

The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant looks at the latest in the debate over ALCOSAN’s plan to renovate the region’s sewer system in an on-going series titled Ripple Effects.

A broad coalition of environmental and community groups Monday urged Pittsburgh City Council to pursue green infrastructure solutions to the city’s storm water overflow problem.

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.

One day before flash flooding inundated southwestern Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation permitting municipalities to create stormwater authorities.

According to the environmental group PennFuture, runoff that is not managed properly can cause flooding and carry pollutants — heavy metals, sediment and nutrients — into waterways, but municipalities now have the option to create authorities to address these issues.

George Jugovic, chair of PennFuture’s law staff, said this is a big issue that people don’t usually consider.

When it rains in Pittsburgh, chances are raw sewage will be discharged into its rivers because so many pipes receive not only sewage, but also storm water, and the system can't handle the volume.  

When this happens, the Allegheny County Health Department issues combined sewer overflow (CSO) flag alerts between May 15 and September 30.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

The Clean Rivers Campaign announced Monday it is filing a legal challenge to ALCOSAN’s denial of an open records request.

In May, the group requested any and all documents related to the scope of the work being done on ALCOSAN’s study of green infrastructure. That request was denied by ALCOSAN.

To comply with federal law, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority submitted a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January to reduce sewage overflows into creeks and rivers at a cost of $2.8 billion. 

At the same time, ALCOSAN requested an 18-month extension to do a study of incorporating "green" infrastructure components proposed at public meetings. Now the people who advocated those changes say they are being shut out of the process.

DC Water

    

Washington DC and Pittsburgh have a common trait of being build right by the water, with low lying areas and old infrastructure. When it became necessary for DC to improve its water and sewage systems - like Pittsburgh - the nation’s capital opted for a focus on traditional "gray" options. Tunnels and pipes were the main solution for Washington's sewage and storm water problems.

But George Hawkins, General Manager of DC Water has worked to convince the district and the EPA to embrace green infrastructure ideas. By reopening the EPA consent decree, DC is on track to becoming a model of sustainable infrastructure.

Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA News

A more regional approach to stormwater and wastewater management would mean better water quality, better service and a more efficient system overall. That’s according to a report from an independent review panel convened by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development at the request of ALCOSAN.

The Authority serves 83 communities, each of them is responsible for collection and then conveyance to ALCOSAN pipes, then the Authority is responsible for treatment.