Landmark Settlement to Clean up Raw Sewage Discharges in Allegheny County
In a landmark settlement with federal, state, and county authorities, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) has agreed to a comprehensive plan to greatly reduce the annual discharge of billions of gallons of untreated sewage into local waterways.
Under the proposed consent decree, ALCOSAN has agreed to a multi-year strategy to upgrade the sewage systems serving Pittsburgh and 82 surrounding municipalities. The settlement also requires ALCOSAN to pay a $1.2 million penalty for past Clean Water Act violations, and to undertake $3 million in environmental projects.
“Sewage overflows can seriously harm public health by carrying dangerous bacteria into waterways used for recreation, such as boating and swimming,” said Granta Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. “Today’s agreement will reduce the amount of untreated sewage being discharged into local rivers by more than 22 billion gallons per year.”
The proposed consent decree, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval, was filed in federal district court today by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Pittsburgh.
“Today’s agreement is the result of very successful cooperative efforts with our federal, state and private partners,” said Matthew J. McKeown, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are confident that the remedial measures ALCOSAN will be making and the long-term control plan the company will adopt, will provide for significant and lasting improvements to water quality throughout the region.”
The settlement was negotiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Justice, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department.
“This agreement will lead to a dramatic improvement in the water quality of the three rivers and area streams, improving recreational and development opportunities along our waterways,” said Kenneth Bowman, southwest regional director for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“While illicit industrial discharges into our waterways were virtually eliminated many years ago, illegal sewage discharges have remained a very stubborn and chronic source of pollution,” said Dr. Bruce W. Dixon, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “Once wet weather sewage discharges have been minimized, our rivers and streams will become even more accessible to those who enjoy them for recreation and pleasure.”
The federal Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of sewage and other pollutants into U.S. waters, unless such discharges comply with a permit that is protective of EPA-approved water quality standards. Each year, an estimated 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage are discharged into Pittsburgh-area waters from hundreds of mostly unpermitted sewage system outfalls. These discharges often occur when the capacity of the sewer system is overwhelmed by wet weather conditions, including storm water runoff and snow melts. Sewage overflows carry dangerous bacteria into waterways where people boat, swim and wade, and affect some of the region’s drinking water sources.
The settlement requires ALCOSAN to submit a wet weather plan to EPA that would resolve a majority of the untreated discharges from the sewer systems by 2026. The $3 million in environmental projects will include stream restoration work and other projects to better control harmful storm water runoff. The $1.2 million penalty will be shared equally by the U.S., Pennsylvania and Allegheny County.
The judicial settlement with ALCOSAN complements a 2003 voluntary agreement by the 83 municipalities to monitor flow throughout the regional sewer system, and to work with ALCOSAN to identify and implement controls to avoid sewage overflows into local waters.
Today’s settlement with ALCOSAN and the 2003 voluntary agreement with the municipalities together represent one of the nation’s largest settlements of a Clean Water Act case involving sewage overflows – in terms of the number of municipalities affected and the extensive nature of the sewer system upgrade.
For a dditional information on controlling sewage overflows, click here.