The case for stormwater fees in the Pittsburgh region

PWSA: After the Crisis
After record-setting rainfall and flash floods in recent years, the need for action across the Pittsburgh region is clear. 

In 2018, I created the Pittsburgh Urban Flood Journal where I’ve been documenting, mapping and writing about flooding issues as they happen. The reason I’ve been doing this is to raise awareness about flood-prone areas. I hope the information I am collecting can one day lead to fixes to our flooding issues for the health and safety of our neighborhoods. As a professional civil engineer, this is my duty. Local leaders and engineers need to develop flood mitigation strategies to better manage stormwater before it causes damage.

PWSA’s stormwater director says Pittsburgh needs to fix flooding problems, even if the likely new mayor is wary of raising rates

PWSA: After the Crisis
Although the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has typically focused on providing clean water and transporting sewage, recent years have presented a newer, pressing challenge: the city’s flooding, landslide and basement backup problems. 

The water authority [PWSA] has proposed a new stormwater fee, which will charge customers according to how much rain water hits their roofs and pavement. The revenue will help PWSA address its flooding challenges as it continues to try to remove sewage that overflows into the city’s rivers when it rains. These problems will only increase as climate change intensifies the city’s rainwater problems, according to Tony Igwe, the person PWSA has hired to direct these new efforts. Igwe talked with PublicSource about his background, how the agency will prioritize the tens of millions of dollars in projects and why he thinks state Rep. Ed Gainey, the victor of the Democratic primary for Pittsburgh mayor, will ultimately support new projects despite pledging not to raise water rates. What do you think is the most important trait that you bring to the job? 
I think honestly the greatest skill for me may be to be able to look at things from a weird angle because of an eclectic background.

Pittsburghers may see a new stormwater fee on their water bills soon. These 11 nearby municipalities already have one.

PWSA: After the Crisis
Residents showed up at Whitehall Borough council meetings regularly for years to complain about the flooding. Basements flooded, cars got stuck in water several feet high and park streams turned into raging torrents that flooded shopping centers. James Leventry, who has been the borough manager since 2000, heard the same question repeatedly: 

“When are you going to do something?”

 But he didn’t have any resources to deal with it. Then the borough passed a stormwater fee. In 2015, it started collecting $8 per month from every Whitehall household.

(Photo via Adobe Stock)

Water bill got you underwater? You may be eligible for discounts in Pittsburgh.

PWSA: After the Crisis
This is a guide to help residents of Pittsburgh navigate discount programs for their water and sewage bills. The information provided covers the four water and sewer utilities in the city. 
Are you eligible for help paying your water and sewage bill? The answer is yes if your income is 150% of the federal poverty level or less. The dollar figure depends on how big your household is. Consult this graphic from the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority [ALCOSAN] website.

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.

PWSA Executive Director Will Pickering photographed near the Highland 1 reservoir in Highland Park. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

As PWSA looks past the lead crisis, its new leader faces $1 billion in upgrades and rising water bills

PWSA is committed to replacing aging infrastructure, including lead service lines, to the tune of more than $1 billion over five years, a rapid increase in spending. This also means it’s begun raising rates and has proposed even more increases, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has left significant economic uncertainty in the region and required the authority to suspend water-shutoffs.