ALCOSAN settlement modified with green infrastructure as it improves water quality for Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio Rivers
PHILADELPHIA (September 19, 2019) – The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) announced today a proposed modification of a 2008 consent decree with Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Under the modification, ALCOSAN will improve its sewer system by 2036 to reduce sewer overflows by an estimated 6.6 billion gallons per year.
“This modification represents significant efforts by each party to make green infrastructure an integral part of the solution to curtailing sewer overflows,” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “We expect that these groundbreaking components will serve as a model of cost effectiveness, feasibility and sustainability. EPA appreciates all of the past and future efforts of ALCOSAN as well as the tributary municipalities in achieving clean water.”
The modification, filed yesterday in District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, gives ALCOSAN and its 83 customer municipalities the go-ahead to pursue an integrated green infrastructure approach to address water quality issues in the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Successful implementation of green measures by the 83 customer municipalities (with resulting flow reductions) will enable ALCOSAN to reduce the amount of gray infrastructure, such as pipes and tunnels, that it must construct.
Green infrastructure includes a range of stormwater control measures that use plant and soil systems, permeable pavement, or piping to store, infiltrate, evaporate, or reuse stormwater and reduce flows to the collection system.
“Now that we have a fuller understanding of the scope of the problem and cost of improvements, the key is flexibility and balance,” said Pennsylvania DEP’s Southwest Regional Director Ron Schwartz. “By listening to the community, we were able to carve out a greater role for green infrastructure where it is practical and effective while also addressing the critical infrastructure improvements necessary to reduce overflows.”
The original 2008 consent decree resolved claims by the EPA, the Pennsylvania DEP, and the ACHD that ALCOSAN violated the federal Clean Water Act by discharging excessive amounts of sewage, in violation of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, into the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. The alleged violations occur primarily during wet weather, which causes ALCOSAN’s combined sanitary and storm water sewers to quickly overload and to discharge through a network of outfalls.
“I am very pleased with the plan that we have negotiated,” said ALCOSAN Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams. “We heard the public’s input on the first plan, especially when it came to the price tag associated with making these required changes to our system. Being able to reduce the cost to ratepayers, extending the timetable to 2036, and having the ability to adapt the plan to include new advances in stormwater management are all key to reaching our goal of reducing overflows.”
Under the 2008 decree, ALCOSAN paid a $1.2 million penalty and was ordered to develop and implement a plan for controlling sewage discharges by 2026. ALCOSAN developed a draft plan in coordination with the 83 municipalities it serves and submitted the plan to regulatory agencies in 2013. At the time, ALCOSAN’s estimated implementation cost was $3.6 billion.
The proposed consent decree modification extends ALCOSAN’s deadline for building improvements to its sewer system. ALCOSAN would have to complete the first phase, called the “interim measures,” by 2036 at an estimated cost of $2 billion. Along with green infrastructure improvements, the interim measures include a major expansion of ALCOSAN Woods Run wastewater treatment plant, and over 15 miles of 14-foot diameter tunnels to store and convey wastewater. In the second phase of the consent decree, ALCOSAN must complete any additional sewage controls that are needed according to a schedule that will be developed after the interim measures are complete.
ALCOSAN is not required to pay any additional penalties under the proposed modification as long as it complies with the consent decree. The proposed modification will be available for review and public comment for 60 days.
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