As the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority takes on more responsibility for managing stormwater in Pittsburgh, we must begin thinking differently and consider how a new stormwater fee is an investment to create a city that is more resilient to current storms and climate change.
There are everyday things we all can do to protect our sewer system from too much rain, reduce the impacts of stormwater to our properties and neighborhoods, and use the solutions to prioritize public health and wellness.
Since 2017, we have been constructing new stormwater infrastructure that use a combination of green techniques such as raingardens, bioswales, and engineered drainage channels and stormwater holding facilities including plastic R-tanks and stone or gravel storage buried underground. These solutions capture rain where it falls and slows its flow before entering the sewer system. The projects help to reduce basement backups and flooding, while also beautifying neighborhoods and combatting climate change.
Our proposal to establish a stormwater fee was submitted to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission earlier this year. If approved, it would restructure how customers are charged for stormwater service and establish a dedicated funding source to cover the cost of new infrastructure needed to reduce pollution, improve water quality, and protect neighborhoods, residents, and properties from increased stormwater.
As we have seen this summer, our sewer system is not designed to handle intense and frequent storms. The storms in May and June 2021 brought more than an inch and a half of rain in less than an hour – overwhelming the system and causing it to overflow into streets and homes. We witnessed similarly intense and frequent storms within the past few years.
Unfortunately, experts predict these storms will continue to get worse. Severe storms tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have increased by 900% in Allegheny County since the 1950s and recent years have brought record breaking amounts of rain to Pittsburgh.
A new stormwater fee ensures that all property owners in Pittsburgh contribute a share that is proportional to the amount of runoff generated by their property. This is a more equitable way to charge for stormwater and is vastly different than our current rate structure.
The new fee is based on impervious surface – the hard surfaces on a property such as roofs, parking lots, driveways, patios, and decks – and is the standard method used by stormwater agencies across the country.
Using this model, all property owners will pay the stormwater fee contributing to the stormwater solutions needed for our community. Residential and non-residential property owners can also reduce their stormwater fee through the credits and incentives program proposed along with the fee.
The stormwater fee is a start. It will take time and additional funding to implement needed improvements throughout Pittsburgh. But, by thinking differently, we can envision a community that is healthier and more resilient to the impacts of stormwater.