For more than 100 years, sewers have delivered incredible public health benefits to the people of Pittsburgh. A well-functioning sewer system serves a sanitary function and protects the environment, diverting stormwater and sewage that would otherwise overflow our streams and rivers to the wastewater treatment plant. Since we’re all accustomed to seeing water go down the drain or disappear into a storm grate, sewers are often out of sight and mind.
All our lives would be much harder without sewers. That’s why, for the second year now, PWSA in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) is proud to celebrate Sewer Awareness Month this September. This month-long spotlight on our sewer system will highlight the criticality of the infrastructure right under our feet, detail how PWSA is making investments to defend our drains and communities, and share helpful, small-scale actions we can all take to protect one of the most important systems we have.
Most of Pittsburgh’s sewers are over 75-100 years old. Today, PWSA has more than 1,200 miles of sewers in its system. If we laid those sewer pipes out end to end, they’d stretch from Pittsburgh to Dallas. The flow in the sewers moves from homes, businesses, and storm grates to ALCOSAN’s treatment plant, where wastewater is treated and cleaned and then released back into our rivers.
Of the 1,200+ miles, about 70% is “combined” sewer mains, meaning both wastewater and stormwater flow through. The remaining 30% is “separated” sewers, meaning we have separate sewer lines for stormwater and wastewater.
To extend the life of our sewers, PWSA has made and will continue to make meaningful capital investments to ensure it continues to serve Pittsburgh for generations to come. To note a few examples:
- The recent rehabilitation of the 100-year-old M-29 sewer outfall on the Monongahela River, which will reduce river flow entering the combined sewer system and help reduce backups.
- Rehabilitating large diameter sewers mains, 36-inches in diameter or larger, to fortify the structural integrity of the sewer pipes.
- The Fuchsia Way Sewer Reconstruction Project, which will fully replace the sewer main and provide impacted residents with greater protection from sewer backups.
To better protect Pittsburgh residents from the impacts of climate change and too much rain, PWSA is evaluating the capacity of our system and analyzing the level of stormwater protection we can provide across the city. This strategic planning will identify projects to strengthen our sewer system and prioritize locations for new stormwater infrastructure.
We all can play a part in helping keep our sewers flowing. Only flush items the sewer is designed to handle – toilet paper, human waste, and nothing else. Fatty, oily foods, car or mechanical grease, and wipes marketed as flushable build up over time, block the flow of wastewater, and cause the system to overflow.
Be sure to check out the rest of this newsletter and monitor our social media channels for more sewer-related information!