Today, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announces that changes to water and wastewater conveyance rates and the adoption of a new stormwater fee were approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) during their November 18th public meeting. The new rates will go into effect on January 12, 2022. This is the final step in the ratemaking process that started with PWSA’s rate request submitted on April 13, 2021.
The new rates, including the stormwater fee, will generate $21 million in additional revenue phased in over two years. In 2022, revenue will increase by $17 million, and in 2023 it will increase by an additional $4 million. The average residential customer using 3,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of $5.65 in 2022 and an increase of $1.44 in 2023.
With the approval of the new rates, the typical residential customer enrolled in our low-income customer assistance Bill Discount Program using 3,000 gallons of water per month will increase to $43.09 in 2022 or by $1.32 per month. In 2023 this will increase to $44.15 or by $1.06 per month. The approval also includes enhancements to our customer assistance programs and a financial incentive for consumers to enroll in auto-pay.
“Today’s approval of our new rates and the stormwater fee reflect the ongoing renewal of our water and sewer infrastructure and will significantly change how we fund stormwater improvements,” stated Will Pickering, PWSA’s Chief Executive Officer.
“With input from the PUC and community stakeholders, we developed a balanced rate settlement that prioritizes the needs of our most vulnerable customers and the investment we must make to ensure the safety and reliability of our water, sewer, and stormwater systems,” Pickering stated. “We appreciate their participation and the continued support from our customers. As a publicly owned and operated utility, every dollar we receive from our ratepayers is reinvested to provide the water services Pittsburgh expects and deserves.”
Expanded Customer Assistance Programs
With any rate increase, we must consider the affordability of rates and provide our most vulnerable customers with the assistance they need. The PUC approval provides additional enhancements to existing customer assistance programs that will help customers reduce outstanding balances, save on their monthly bill, and expand current programs to more customers.
Among other benefits, PWSA will double the monthly arrearage forgiveness credit from $15 to $30 for on-time payments made by customers who are enrolled in the Bill Discount Program and on an active payment plan; very low-income customers enrolled in the Bill Discount Program will receive a 50% discount on water usage charges, and all customers enrolled in the Bill Discount Program will receive an 85% discount on the stormwater charge. Additionally, PWSA will continue to waive reconnection fees for all customers in 2022. We are also expanding the Hardship Grant Program to include sewage-only customers, and all verified low-income customers will automatically be enrolled in the Winter Shutoff Moratorium.
The PGH2O Cares team, established earlier this year, will continue its proactive outreach and education to customers who are eligible for our customer assistance programs. Their one-on-one interaction with customers is providing the extra boost many need to enroll in our programs to receive the support they deserve. PGH2O Cares is an essential feature of our existing customer assistance programs, and we are seeing that their efforts are working to build awareness and increase enrollment.
The Stormwater Fee: A notable change for Pittsburgh
Historically, we have funded our stormwater services from wastewater rates that are based on water usage. The new stormwater fee is based on the hard or impervious surfaces on a property. This ensures that all property owners in Pittsburgh contribute a share that is proportional to the amount of runoff generated by their property. Establishing a fee that is based on hard surfaces such as roofs, pavement, and asphalt is a more equitable way to charge for stormwater.
As part of the implementation of the new stormwater fee, wastewater conveyance rates will decrease since the new stormwater fee will begin to recover the stormwater costs previously included.
The new stormwater fee is a significant change to our rate structure. It provides a dedicated funding source for stormwater management and puts us on the path to, over time, increase investment in stormwater projects that include improvements to our sewer system and green infrastructure like rain gardens and street planters to help catch, retain, and filter stormwater runoff.
Outreach and education remain a priority as we implement the stormwater fee and advance the strategic planning that is currently underway. We will continue to engage with community members and stakeholders to provide a basic understanding of the fee and to seek input on the stormwater issues that are of most concern in their neighborhoods. Community engagement and education is essential to ensure the success of our stormwater planning efforts, provide a reasonable level of protection from intense and heavy rains, and to understand how we can work together to improve the health and well-being of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
For more information about the stormwater program, please visit www.pgh2ostormwater.com.
Calculating the Stormwater Fee
Impervious surface is the hard surface on a property such as roofs, concrete, and asphalt that do not absorb stormwater. These hard surfaces generate stormwater runoff that collect trash and send polluted water into local waterways. Runoff can also overwhelm our sewer system causing streets to flood, basements to backup, and sewage to overflow into rivers and streams.
In Pittsburgh, the average amount of impervious surface on a property is approximately 1,650 square feet. This is equal to one equivalent residential unit (ERU) of impervious surface, which is the unit of measurement for calculating the stormwater fee and is accepted as the industry standard for determining a stormwater fee. The stormwater fee will be applied to all residential and non-residential properties in Pittsburgh in the following way:
As part of implementing the stormwater fee, a credits program will be available to residential and non-residential properties. Residential property owners can reduce their stormwater fee by installing certain measures to control stormwater runoff from their properties, such as redirecting downspouts into street planters where applicable or installing a rain garden. Non-residential customers can receive up to a 60% maximum credit by meeting the City’s 2019 stormwater development standards.
Additionally, customers will have access to an online searchable database to view their property, the amount of impervious surface, and the number of ERUs charged to the property. An appeals process will also be available if you believe that the total number of ERUs and associated stormwater fee should be different. These resources, along with the application process to apply for the stormwater credit, will be available when the stormwater fee goes into effect next year.
For more information about the stormwater fee, please visit www.pgh2o.com/stormwater-fee.
How Will Your Bill Change?
PWSA's rate increase is carefully allocated to increase revenue where it is needed most. The typical residential customer using 3,000 gallons of water per month currently pays $79.34 per month under the existing rates. When the new rates go into effect in early 2022, this is expected to increase to $84.99 in 2022 or by $5.65 per month. In 2023, this will increase to $86.43 or by $1.44 per month.
The typical residential customer enrolled in our low-income customer assistance Bill Discount Program using 3,000 gallons of water per month currently pays $41.77 per month under the existing rates. With the approval of the new rates, this will change to $43.09 in 2022 or by $1.32 per month. In 2023 this will increase to $44.15 or by $1.06 per month.
Ongoing Investment in Water and Wastewater Systems
To provide customers with safe and reliable water, sewer, and stormwater services, we must invest in the infrastructure we use each day. We are currently implementing an ambitious $1.2 billion capital program that includes replacing water mains, rehabilitating aging sewer lines, constructing new stormwater infrastructure, and implementing the Water Reliability Plan—a series of once-in-a-generation projects to renew key components of our water production and distribution systems.
As a publicly owned and managed water, sewer, and stormwater authority, every dollar we receive from ratepayers is reinvested back into our infrastructure and the improvements we are making to provide high-quality services to our customers.
For more information on the new rates approved today and our plans for renewing our water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure, please visit www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture.