Pittsburgh sewer customers to see bills rise for four years
By Bob Bauder
The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority estimates it needs $2 billion in infrastructure improvements during the next four decades to upgrade century-old lines and other equipment that fail regularly, its top official said.
The authority cannot afford to spend $2 billion, but on Friday its board approved four straight years of rate increases necessary to fund $150 million in capital improvements.
Rates will increase from 2014 through 2017 for residential and commercial customers, according to Jim Good, the authority's interim executive director. "The average age of our sewers is 70, and we've got some sewers that are 150 years old," Good said. "About half of our water lines were installed before World War II. We average about one water line break a day, and that goes up to about two a day in the winter."
About 300,000 residential and commercial customers in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area will experience the first rate increase on Jan. 1.
Average residential bills will rise by $4.32 per month in 2014; $1.94 in 2015; $1.26 in 2016; and 77 cents in 2017. Commercial customers can expect larger increases, but the authority did not yet have specific projections.
PWSA board Chairman Dan Deasy, who also serves as a Democratic state representative from Westwood, said the authority's 40-year plan calls for $2 billion in upgrades.
"If we had an unlimited supply of money, that would be our wish list," Deasy said. "Obviously, we don't have that kind of money, so we have to prioritize and do what we can."
He said PWSA would borrow $150 million to fix the most urgent problems, such as sewer lines that chronically back up in the East End, and address top concerns, such as improvements for the 100-year-old water treatment plant.
The authority also plans screens for sewage outfalls to prevent flotsam from entering creeks and rivers.
"You just can't continue to put a Band-Aid on our pipes," Deasy said. "Certain areas are in dire need of repairs and replacement, and those are the things we're going to prioritize right now."
The spending includes $18 million for government-mandated improvements to alleviate sewage overflows into rivers during heavy rains. It includes $9 million for "green" improvements, such as rain gardens and water-permeable pavement, that allow rainwater to drain naturally into the ground.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.