Rivers are at the heart of the Pittsburgh region. The area’s economic and environmental revival is closely tied to its rivers, but unfortunately its aging and poorly designed sewer system is creating a crisis. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can cause raw sewage and other contaminants to overflow into local rivers.
To address this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency required ALCOSAN, the local sanitary authority, to bring the region’s waterways into compliance with the Clean Water Act. While ALCOSAN wanted to use the multi-billion dollar investment to implement an underground tunnel system, the local community mobilized behind greener options. Four years ago, Partnership for Working Families affiliate Pittsburgh United launched its Clean Rivers Campaign to fight for a green infrastructure-first approach with maximum community benefits, to protect ratepayers, especially those with a low or fixed income, and to make sure that those who create the biggest burden for the sewer system pay their fair share.
By organizing community members and ratepayers, the Clean Rivers Campaign won a Customer Assistance Program from ALCOSAN with an earmarked $30 million budget to ensure that the service area's most vulnerable residents will receive discounts on their sewage bills. The Campaign continues to push for customer assistance for the water portion of the bill so that all residents can maintain access to clean water and sewage treatment even as prices skyrocket. The campaign also gained important support for a "green-first, green-preferred" plan from Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Both leaders support investment in large-scale green infrastructure. Such a program would create local family-sustaining jobs, transform blighted neighborhoods, reduce flooding and help improve air and water quality.
The Clean Rivers Campaign has dramatically shifted the dialogue in the Pittsburgh region, but the fight isn't over yet. The Pittsburgh Region is at a critical juncture, and a final Consent Decree with the EPA will be signed soon. The City and surrounding municipalities, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and ALCOSAN are assessing how to incorporate more green-first infrastructure investments into the plan to update the region’s aging sewer system. You can learn more or get involved here.