Pittsburgh is often criticized for poor air quality, one report finding that the city has air of poor quality for breathing approximately 4 months out of the year. However, the city is also under scrutiny for its water quality. Its sewer systems, constructed in the early twentieth century, were designed to carry both wastewater and stormwater. With the recent increase in precipitation (and any time there is increased precipitation), the sewer systems have been unable to handle the augmented volume, which results in sewage in rivers and backups in people’s homes and yards.
The water quality issues have resulted in federal, state and county agencies mandating change. According to the 3 Rivers Campaign website, “Under a court-ordered Consent Decree and Consent Orders – with federal, state and county agencies acting as plaintiffs – the ALCOSAN sewer authority, the City of Pittsburgh, and 82 additional municipalities must control the sewer overflows polluting our rivers.”
Even with the consent decree in place, many argue that the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) has not given the issue the appropriate attention necessary to address the issue. Two issues facing the authority is the obvious cost the project will incur as well as the complicated nature of the endeavor involving “dozens of municipalities that own their own sewer lines.” According to ALCOSAN, the price tag for the project would be in excess of $2 billion over a period of 20 years. This will come back to consumers as they will likely see continued cost increases. An idea under consideration to help address the matter include “requiring inspection of homeowners’ sewer lines before properties can be sold, a step to ensure that storm water isn’t entering the sanitary sewer system through cracked lateral lines.” Other ideas include the use of green infrastructure to help absorb the rain, such as rain gardens.
Addressing these issues is vital as they can negatively impact the region’s economy. For individuals and businesses thinking to relocate to or remain in the Pittsburgh area, these concerns would certainly weigh into the decision-making process. Although criticized for its slow response, ALCOSAN did move forward last year with a $300 million upgrade of its treatment plant that will double its treatment capacity.
 “Pittsburgh’s Wet Weather Problem.” Cleanriverscampaign.org, www.cleanriverscampaign.org/pittsburghs-wet-weather-problem/.
“Focusing on the Basics: Pittsburgh Needs Cleaner Air and Water.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 27 Jan. 2019, www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2019/01/27/Focusing-on-the-basics-Pittsburgh-needs-cleaner-air-and-water/stories/201901270079..
 “Focusing on the Basics: Pittsburgh Needs Cleaner Air and Water.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 27 Jan. 2019, www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2019/01/27/Focusing-on-the-basics-Pittsburgh-needs-cleaner-air-and-water/stories/201901270079.
Photo Credit: Jim Orsini, Flickr