As water bills rise, PWSA ramps up efforts to help low-income customers

The average customer in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] service area spent about 2.7% of their income on water and sewage. The Environmental Protection Agency considers water and sewage bills above 4.5% to be unaffordable. But in a third of the city’s neighborhoods, at least one in every five customers was spending 10% or more of their income on water and sewage, according to PWSA’s own affordability study in 2019.

Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

A thousand little cuts: Locals say a fire on Neville Island shows the pollution didn’t stop after Shenango Coke Works closed

This story was produced in partnership with Gazette 2.0, a hyperlocal startup delivering impactful news to the western suburbs of Pittsburgh in print and online at gazette20.com. Kristine Pace was packing a bag to care for her injured father on April 14 when she smelled burning plastic and began frantically searching her Emsworth home to see what had caught fire. 

Melanie Holcomb was walking her dogs nearby when she noticed a stench so intense that she saw a driver pull over to see if the engine had caught fire. Neighbors wandered onto their porches. When a cloud of black smoke drifted across the Ohio River and into view, Holcomb said, she hurried home. A large industrial fire had erupted at Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island.

The Cheswick Power Plant in Springdale is No. 7 on the Toxic Ten list. Photo by Michael Machosky/NEXTpittsburgh)

Top 10 toxic polluters in Pittsburgh: Meet the new #1.

This story was originally published by NEXTpittsburgh, a news partner of PublicSource. NEXTPittsburgh is an online publication about the people advancing the region and the innovative and cool things happening here. Sign up to get NEXTpittsburgh free. This is a top 10 list you don’t want to be on: PennEnvironment’s updated ranking of Allegheny County’s Toxic Ten sources of air pollution, released today. And it has a new leader. ATI Flat Rolled Products in Brackenridge (formerly known as Allegheny Ludlum) is the worst air polluter in the county.

Betty Foster-Pinkley stands in front of a rain garden that Upstream, an environmental nonprofit, installed in her backyard. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/PublicSource)

Some Pittsburgh environmental groups are trying to undo a legacy of neglect by prioritizing projects in underserved communities

When Betty Foster-Pinkley’s mom passed away in 2010, she took over responsibility for the family house in the East Hills. 

The house she and her six siblings grew up in is at the very bottom of Dornbush Street. With a slope of 32%, Dornbush is the second steepest street in Pittsburgh and the eighth steepest in the entire country. During Pittsburgh’s record rainfalls in 2018 and 2019, rainwater flooded Foster-Pinkley’s basement. Her water heater, furnace, air conditioners and some mementos from her children and grandchildren were damaged. She had to pay about $3,000 for replacements and repairs out of her own pocket because it was a natural flood, not a broken pipe that her home insurance would cover. 

The flooding was so bad, she said, it flooded a nearby apartment building and knocked over a wall.

Buildings in downtown Pittsburgh can be seen from Hays Woods. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Analysis: Which Pittsburgh mayoral candidate aligns with your environmental beliefs?

Pittsburgh has committed to investing billions of dollars in the coming decade to clean up its rivers and address persistent air quality challenges and increasingly heavy rains due to climate change. The next mayor of Pittsburgh could play an outsized role in determining how these problems are tackled, especially if Congress passes a new $2 trillion infrastructure package. To help our readers understand where exactly the mayoral candidates stand on issues affecting the environment, our lead environment and health reporter, Oliver Morrison, parsed through their answers from individual interviews to help readers see what their real differences are and what kind of policies they may pursue as mayor. You can read their answers or listen to the interviews in full, here or listen to a radio version of the piece produced with The Allegheny Front below. Allegheny Front · Where Pittsburgh's mayoral candidates stand on the environment
Mayor Bill Peduto
State Rep. Ed Gainey
Tony Moreno
Mike Thompson
Mayor Bill Peduto

Peduto enjoys the advantages and disadvantages of incumbency.

Clockwise from top left: State Rep. Ed Gainey, Tony Moreno, Mike Thompson, Mayor Bill Peduto.

Q&A: Pittsburgh’s mayoral candidates debate the city’s environmental challenges

Will the City of Pittsburgh revoke its parks tax? Spend more on green infrastructure to confront flooding and climate change? And should the mayor of Pittsburgh take a stand on issues that go beyond city limits, like fracking and green energy? Although the first mayoral debates focused on issues like affordable housing and policing, the four candidates offer sharply different records and plans for the city’s environmental future. PublicSource asked how the candidates would address the many environmental challenges that one would face as mayor. 

We asked the same questions to contrast their ideas and then edited down the answers to highlight their most substantial proposals and biggest areas of disagreement. 

[If you want to hear the candidates’ full answers, listen to the wide-ranging interviews here.]

Listen to the interviews

Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s environment and health reporter.