PWSA poised to introduce stormwater fee

September 16, 2018
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A person walks along South Craig Street in Oakland as rains begin on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 7, 2014.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers could see a stormwater fee added to potentially increasing water bills in the coming years as PWSA amps up spending on long overdue capital projects.

Robert Weimar, who heads PWSA, said the authority would seek approval from the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission next year for a stormwater fee that would apply to all customers, including those who do not currently pay for sewage.

PWSA does not yet know how much the fee will be.

The stormwater fee would pay for the disposal of rainwater that runs off properties and into city sewers. Weimer said owners of vacant buildings that do not have water meters and structures such as parking lots and garages aren’t charged for sewage, but they contribute to runoff into the sewers.

“We estimate there are some 40,000 properties that do not pay a water and sewer bill and get a benefit from stormwater,” Weimar said. “They don’t pay anything for maintenance or upgrades.”

Weimer said the PUC mandated PWSA to submit a stormwater fee as part of its next proposed rate increase, expected in 2019. The troubled PWSA was placed under PUC oversight in April. PWSA already has a 16.7 percent rate increase pending before the PUC. The PUC has until March to review the rate request and render a decision.

Weimar said the stormwater fee would be based on the total amount of solid surface, such as a roof, driveway or parking lot, that causes water run off from each property. He said residential customers would receive a reduction in sanitary sewer bills to offset stormwater fees.

“Everybody’s going to pay the same fee,” Weimar said.

Fees would go into a fund for green infrastructure projects that reduce runoff before it hits the sewer system.

In 2015, PWSA estimated it’s needed $30 million to address stormwater problems and regulatory mandates for reducing runoff into the rivers during periods of heavy rain. It now believes that was a low estimate.

Municipalities across Allegheny County are considering similar stormwater fees to pay for federal and state requirements to reduce runoff.

Mark Wolinsky, executive director of Three Rivers Wet Weather, said at least four communities -- Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, Plum and White Hall -- are currently levying stormwater fees. He said there may be others that he doesn’t yet know about.

“But I know a lot of them are looking at it,” he said. “They’re seeing these huge things that they have to do, and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to need some money for this, and we think this is a fair way to go about it.’”

Mt. Lebanon in 2011 became the first community to levy a stormwater fee. It averages about $8 per month for residents and generates around $400,000 per year for stormwater projects, according to Ian McMeans, the assistant borough manager.

McMeans said Mt. Lebanon has used the money exclusively for stormwater upgrades. They have helped reduce flooding in the borough. He said the fire department responded to as many as 350 flooding complaints during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It responded to a total of around 60 calls this summer during heavy rains that hit the South Hills.

“It’s worked out very well,” he said. “We’ve been able to make some improvements to our storm sewer system that have dramatically reduced in flooding in our community.”

About 75 percent of Pittsburgh’s sewers convey both wastewater and stormwater. The remaining 25 percent are part of a separated system with different pipes for sewage and stormwater. The Pittsburgh Department of Public Works was responsible for maintenance and upgrades to the separated system.

Weimar said Pittsburgh wants PWSA to assume responsibility for both systems in the future, which means the authority needs more money for its stormwater budget.

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