Stormwater Master Plan FAQ

PWSA is engaging a visionary project team led by PennPraxis and the Water Center at Penn to initiate a collaborative community process to develop a Stormwater Master Plan. This Master Plan will serve as Pittsburgh’s blueprint to address local stormwater challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is PWSA’s Stormwater Master Plan?

PWSA’s Stormwater Master Plan builds off past planning efforts by using climate change data, community input, and prioritizing public health and wellness to provide a cost-effective, inclusive, and sustainable way to address one of our region's most challenging problems.

The master planning process is led by a visionary project team from PennPraxis and the Water Center at Penn, and they are joined by subconsultants representing both national expertise as well as deep knowledge of local water issues. The broad goals of the Stormwater Master Plan are to achieve a significant reduction of flooding, improve the quality of life for residents, develop cost-effective solutions that address wet weather challenges and regulatory requirements, and incorporate broad public and stakeholder support.

The plan will seek to address these specific goals of improving water quality, reducing street flooding and basement backups, and beautifying neighborhoods in an affordable manner. All of which will create a community that is healthier, safer, and more resilient to the impacts of stormwater.

The Stormwater Master Plan will identify the priorities and milestones to implement within the next five years while keeping an eye on the future, so we can be better prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Why is the Master Plan needed?

There is currently no comprehensive approach to managing stormwater in Pittsburgh, and the impacts of climate change and aging infrastructure significantly complicate the challenge. When it rains, the combined sewer system overflows into rivers and streams, streets flood, and basements backup with raw sewage. The region often experiences intense and frequent rainstorms that cause property damage and threaten the health and safety of Pittsburgh residents.

Over the past several years, PWSA, the City of Pittsburgh, and other entities have studied the region's stormwater challenges. From the Citywide Green First Plan adopted in 2016 to a review of existing stormwater codes and ordinances currently underway, Pittsburgh's stormwater challenges are well documented. PWSA's stormwater priorities focus on reducing combined sewer overflows (CSOs), urban flooding, and contamination of local waterways. The Stormwater Master Plan will create a global model to serve as Pittsburgh’s blueprint to address local stormwater challenges.

How is it different from past planning efforts including the 2016 Citywide Green First Plan?

Past planning efforts, starting in 2013, began to look at how Pittsburgh could use green infrastructure to manage stormwater and improve water quality. The 2016 Citywide Green First Plan prioritized watersheds throughout Pittsburgh and identified projects that would help to reduce combined sewer overflows into rivers and streams. In 2019, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), the agency that treats wastewater for Pittsburgh and other municipalities in the county, received approval of their Clean Water Plan, a regulatory document defining strategies to reduce combined sewer overflows into our rivers by 2036.

With the approval of this regional plan, PWSA needed to adapt its approach to avoid duplicating efforts while continuing to identify solutions that would address many other wet weather challenges in Pittsburgh. The Stormwater Master Plan will build upon these past planning efforts, analyze the effects of climate change, and will be coordinated with ALCOSAN’s Clean Water Plan.

The Master Plan is more comprehensive. It will create a framework for the level of storm protection to provide across Pittsburgh, identify short-term stormwater projects using an effective combination of green and grey infrastructure and climate data projections to plan for future projects. It will also recommend funding strategies and governance models to create a sustainable and more resilient city that prioritizes public health and wellness.

ALCOSAN’s Clean Water Plan is available at www.alcosan.org/clean-water-plan.

How is the Stormwater Master Plan funded?

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has received overwhelming support from our foundation community to fund a portion of the Master Plan. The Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation have each contributed $100,000 and we are seeking an additional $100,000 from the Hillman Family Foundations. PWSA has budgeted $250,000 towards this planning effort. 

When it rains, my basement frequently backs up with sewage or my neighborhood often floods. How will the Master Plan address these challenges? Will it stop them from occurring?

This plan will identify ways to significantly reduce the frequency, volume, and impact of flooding throughout Pittsburgh. Of course, there could always be a larger storm that PWSA would not be able to handle, especially with the ongoing onset of climate change.

What level of storm protection can be provided when the Master Plan is complete?

Through a collaborative process with stakeholders and the Pittsburgh community, the master planning process will identify guiding principles and the framework to establish a minimum level of storm protection to equitably protect Pittsburgh residents from local stormwater challenges.

Why is it important to have the level of service discussion as a community?

This is one of the most important conversations the Pittsburgh community will have. By developing a collective answer to this question, we can assure that residents and businesses participating in the process understand the benefits and limitations of the level of service, and realize the cost associated with its implementation. For example, a level of service that prevents flooding during the most severe storms could result in large rate increases. This conversation will work towards establishing a level of service that balances protection from flooding with the cost to ratepayers.

How long will it take to complete the Master Plan?

It will take approximately one year to complete the Master Plan. PWSA initiated the work with PennPraxis and the Water Center at Penn in June 2021. We anticipate presenting a final plan in June 2022 that will offer a toolbox of holistic and integrated stormwater management solutions suited to Pittsburgh.  

Community outreach and engagement is a critical component of the Stormwater Master Plan and there will be several opportunities for Pittsburgh residents and stakeholders to participate in its development. When complete, the Master Plan will be announced broadly through media engagement, PWSA’s website, social media, and other methods to recognize a new era of stormwater management for Pittsburgh.

When will I start seeing results at my home or in my neighborhood?

From the time the plan is completed in June 2022, design and construction to implement the plan’s recommendations will take place over many years and funding will always be limited. The pace of implementation would also be affected by the amount of Federal and State funding available, to ensure that these improvements are accomplished in an affordable way. The problems of too much stormwater entering our system did not happen overnight. It will take time to implement needed solutions.

How can I participate in this planning process?

Deep public engagement of a diverse group of residents, ratepayers and stakeholders is key to the success of this project. Community-based planning will be accomplished through meetings with established community organizations that can convey the community issues and needs.  The team will identify and meet with a wide variety of stakeholders to learn of the most critical challenges and barriers facing our city. Special attention will be paid to engaging stakeholders and communities not typically at the table for stormwater conversations and are most impacted by stormwater issues such as flooding and basement backups. 

Where can I find more information about PWSA’s stormwater planning?

For more information about the Stormwater Master Plan and PWSA’s other stormwater planning efforts, please visit www.pgh2o.com/stormwater-plans. For information about stormwater projects currently in design, construction, or recently completed by PWSA, visit www.pgh2o.com/search-all-projects. For information about the proposed stormwater fee, visit www.pgh2ostormwater.com.