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EPA Settles Pittsburgh Stormwater Violations

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

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On Friday (Feb. 5), the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had reached a consent agreement with the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority over various stormwater inspection and enforcement violations.

Under the agreement, the city and PWSA are required to adhere to a schedule of corrective actions to address the issues.

Pittsburgh Water Issues

Starting nearly two years ago, at the beginning of February in 2019, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed 161 criminal charges against the PWSA, alleging that the authority had failed to notify residents of when lead pipe replacements would be occurring, and failed to sample water within a specified timeframe after the pipes had been replaced.

According to the Associated Press, the charges were a breach of Pennsylvania’s safe drinking water law. Previously, the PWSA admitted civil liability; state regulators fined the authority $2.4 million.

At the time of the filing, the PWSA was already under a mandate to replace at least 7% of its lead lines every year. The PWSA issued a report in mid-January noting that 2,825 lead service lines had been replaced since July 2016. The 2019 program for lead line replacement was budgeted at $49 million and was slated to see the replacement of over 3,400 lead lines.

Cwieders / Getty Images

On Friday (Feb. 5), the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had reached a consent agreement with the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) over various stormwater inspection and enforcement violations.

However, prosecutors found that in 2016 and 2017, the authority replaced lines without providing necessary advance notice. (The law mandates that customers are warned ahead of time and are provided with information on how to minimize exposure to lead.)

According to the state AG, Pennsylvania law makes mandatory that to remediate a lead level problem, a water system operator must:

  • Replace 7% of its water lines, until there are two consecutive monitoring periods that provide results at or below the action level;
  • Notify residents using the system at least 45 days before replacing any lines, to help minimize any exposure to lead that may spike during pipe replacement; and
  • Collecting samples within 72 hours of the pipes being installed.

In 2016, the PWSA carried out testing at two different times, and each resulted in reports of lead levels that are higher than what is allowed under state law.

The PWSA estimated that it needed to replace 1,341 lead lines by June 30, 2017, to meet the 7% requirement advised by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The PSWA noted that it had not provided a number of residents with notice, along with failing to collect the necessary water samples within 72 hours.

In November 2017, the DEP fined the authority $2.4 million, entering into a civil consent order and agreement, going on to refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General.

If convicted, the fine for each of the 161 counts is a maximum $12,500. Shapiro noted that charges were being filed against the Authority as an entity, because there was no evidence of a single person intending harm to those using the system.

A month after the charges were announced, PWSA began opening street hydrants and flushing water mains in the anticipation of adding orthophosphate to the water supply, an additive often used to control the release of lead and copper. However, PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering noted that it could take several months before seeing a reduction in lead water levels.

At the time, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the PWSA was expected to begin replacing lead water service lines in the next few weeks, totaling the replacement of 4,500 lines by June 2020.

A little over a year later in May, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) announced that its $2 billion plan to remove seven billion gallons of stormwater and sewage from rivers and streams in the county was approved by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

ALCOSAN serves about 825,000 people in Pittsburgh and 82 surrounding municipalities, approximately 83,000 of those in the city.

The Modified Consent Decree agreement is with the United States Department of Justice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Allegheny County Health Department.

According to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, ALCOSAN and the EPA developed the “Wet Weather Plan” consent decree in 2008, aimed at developing a wet weather plan for reducing serious combined sewer overflow and sanitary sewer overflow problems.

Taking a step further, the DEP also signed consent orders with all of ALCOSAN’s 83 municipal customers, requiring each to complete feasibility studies for controlling their CSO issues.

Additionally, ALCOSAN also requested that the Allegheny Conference on Community Development create a review panel to address regionalization of the ALCOSAN system and make recommendations. As a result, the 34-member panel developed alternatives for regionalizing ALCOSAN’s decentralized system in order to help improve the area’s water quality in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The development plan to address wet weather overflows was completed in 2012. However, the public challenged ALCOSAN to make the plan more affordable for ratepayers, yet flexible enough to take advantage of advances in the field of green stormwater and wastewater management. Further negotiations followed the request.

To reach the Consent Decree goals, the Clean Water Plan will focus on four key areas:

  • Preventing excess water from entering the sewer system through the use of green infrastructure and other technologies, in addition to the use of a multi-year, multi-million-dollar grant through the Green Revitalization of Our Waterways program which plans to fund various municipality and sewer projects;
  • Increasing adaptive management and conveyance capacity through the use of adaptive management and base long-term planning on data from green infrastructure, flow-reduction projects, and other technologies;
  • Regionalizing multi-municipal sewers through the effort to assume ownership of certain multi-municipal trunk sewers and related facilities; and
  • Expanding wastewater treatment plants—which currently have a capacity of 250 million gallons per day (mgd)—by upgrading its pump stations, building a new vehicle maintenance garage and expanding treatment operations. The efforts will expand wet weather treatment capacity of the plant from 250 mgd to 480 mgd and wet weather headworks and disinfection capacity to 600 mgd.

Through the modified plan, ALCOSAN intends to eliminate all illegal sanitary sewer discharges into the region’s rivers and streams and reduce sewage and stormwater overflows from 153 combined sewer outfalls by 85%. To achieve this, the plan has proposed the construction of over 15 miles of underground 14-foot-diameter storage tunnels along the city’s rivers.

What Now

In a recent news release by the EPA, the Agency announced a new consent agreement with the City of Pittsburgh and the PWSA.

The agreement comes as a settlement following a variety of violations, including but not limited to failure to implement inspections and enforcement procedures for construction site erosion, sediment control measures and post-construction stormwater management best management practices.

Under the agreement, both entities are required to:

  • Submit an updated stormwater code for approval to the Pittsburgh city council by July 2021;
  • Hire additional inspectors and enforcement staff for 2022; and
  • Put management partnership procedures in place by the end of January 2022.

The agreement requires the city and PWSA to comply with a schedule of activities to ensure full compliance with these requirements by March 31, 2022, and to submit quarterly progress reports to EPA.

EPA coordinated with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in developing the settlement. ALCOSAN is subject to a federal-state-county consent decree that requires it to reduce sewage overflows into rivers and streams and end the illegal discharges from sanitary sewer outfalls.

   

Tagged categories: Clean Water Act; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; EPA; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; non-potable water; North America; Safety; Stormwater; Water/Wastewater

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