Storm water fee discussed at council bi-annual meeting
October 12, 2021
The biannual general meeting of the South Side Community Council (SSCC) featured a presentation concerning storm water by Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) officials; Public safety updates; Council activities; and, Election of a new board member.
Presenting for PWSA were Rebecca Zito, senior manager of public affairs, and Beth Dutton, senior project manager of storm water.
Ms. Zito explained a purpose of the storm water management program is to decrease the amount of water and sewage going into the rivers. Another goal of the program is to reduce the number of backups into residents' homes.
Between 1958 and 2012, there has been a 71 percent increase in heavy precipitation in Pittsburgh and the Northeast. Pittsburgh is now averaging 38 inches of rain a year with more now coming from severe storms, making it more difficult for water to be absorbed.
Climate change is a factor, Ms. Zito said, resulting in a rise in the intensity of storms. NOAA tracking indicates an increase of 12 severe storms in the 1950s to 110 in 2010.
Storm water often combines with the sanitary sewer system in Pittsburgh resulting in overflows into area rivers. The current combined system was built one hundred years ago to handle rainwater of one inch or less at a time. The system was not designed to handle the current amount of storm water, with the added problem of increases in pavement and hard surfaces.
Ms. Zito said PWSA wants to build a system utilizing green infrastructure projects to keep storm water out of the sewers. Current projects underway and planned use a combination of vegetation and underground storage to hold back water and release it at a more manageable rate.
The green strategy has already completed 13 projects with four more under construction. In the works is the South Side Park Stormwater Improvement Project.
She noted much of the runoff in the park comes from the hillsides.
Ms. Zito explained the South Side Park project will use the natural features of the park to manage runoff, using channels, rain gardens and underground storage. The project will eventually connect to a new system on 21st Street and lead to the Monongahela River.
The project cost is estimated to be $4.9 million with construction beginning in 2022.
Paying for all the storm water projects will be a new fee, pending PUC approval. Currently, water bills include a portion for drinking water and a portion for sewage based on water usage.
She said the new fee will be more equitable based on the amount of impervious surface area. All properties in Pittsburgh were mapped using arial photographs, including properties without water meters such as parking lots.
The proposed fee will be split into three tiers, depending on square footage:
Tier 1 is 400 sq. ft. to 1,015 sq. ft.
Tier 2 is 1,015 sq. ft. to 2,710 sq. ft.,
Encompassing more than 70 percent of
Tier 3 is over 2,710 sq. ft.
All non-residential units will be based on the Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU). If a parking lot is five ERUs, the storm water bill would be five times the approved ERU rate. In Pittsburgh, the average home is 1,650 sq. ft., which would equal one ERU.
The proposed monthly rates are:
Tier 1 $2.98 $3.98
Tier 2 $5.96 $7.95
Tier 3 $11.92 $15.90
Non-Residential (per ERU) $5.96 $7.95
Questioned if residents can receive a discount on the fee if they have already taken steps, such as a roof gardens, rain gardens or rain barrels. Ms. Zito said there is a storm water credit program in the proposal. However, it currently does not include rain barrels.
"We (PWSA) can only do so much," she added. "It's going to take everybody to reduce storm water."
Some ways residents can reduce their fee is to redirect downspouts into rain gardens; redirect surface property drainage to street planters in a targeted area or control at least ¾ inch of runoff from impervious surfaces using rain gardens or something similar.
Rain barrels currently aren't included in the program, but PWSA is finding many residents in dense neighborhoods are using them. The program as it is proposed is a starting point Ms. Zito said.
While the storm water fee still has to be approved by the PUC, there is assistance for low-income residents. Those at 150 percent or below the Federal Poverty Level will receive an 85 percent discount on their storm water fee.
Zone 3 Commander John Fisher said he was "pleased" with the results of the recent safety initiatives on East Carson Street. For several weeks, traffic flow was only in the outbound direction on Carson between 10th and 18th streets beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Traffic was also limited on the side streets and there was no parking on Carson in the safety zone.
He said there was some "negative feedback" from business owners and they recently reverted to two-way traffic on the weekend nights, but the parking remains restricted. He cautioned if safety concerns return to the Carson Street corridor, they could return to the one-direction restricted traffic.
Commander Fisher also noted he did a walk-through the old Zone 3 Station with Councilman Bruce Kraus and city officials. The hope is to reopen the cellblock area of the former station to hold intoxicated people on weekends.
During September, the police commander said in the Carson Street corridor there were: five arrests; 151 traffic citations; 68 cars towed; 3 non-traffic citations; and, 64 calls for service.
18th Street Signal Project
Councilman Kraus relayed the 18th Street Signal Project looks like it will be running concurrently with the East Carson Street Safety Project.
The project includes bump-outs at the intersections and new signalization.
"We're in for some heavy construction," Councilman Kraus said of the Carson and 18th streets projects. "All geared toward improved safety."
In noting the SSCC accomplishments, council president Barbara Rudiak said working on their new website forced them to write down what they actually do and now that it's live, to keep it updated all the time.
The carrousel at the opening screen allows visitors to view information on the SSCC's Mission and Vision, News & Information, Historic Guidelines and more. There's also a page for seeing what the council has accomplished each year since 2015.
Pages explain the council's work as a Registered Community Organization and the Development Activities Meetings developers are required to have with the SSCC. For those who want to dig deeper into the council's business, they can view the agendas and minutes from Board Meetings.
There is also information on the SSCC's initiatives such as Green n'at, Esser Plaza, South Side Park, Public Art, the Riverfront Train; Ormsby Park Community Garden and street trees. Learn more about South Watch, the South Side Planning Forum Graffiti Watch and South Side block watches on the website.
The website is at: southsidecommunitycouncil.org
The final business for the evening was the election of a new board member for the council. Kweilin Nassar, a resident of South Side since 1992 was nominated for the seat.
Ms. Nassar spent most of her career in broadcasting with 3WS, KDKA-TV and WQED. She has been involved with the council for years and has attended all of the SSCC's DAM meetings. Her home has been on the South Side Historic Home Tour.
By unanimous vote, Ms. Nassar was added to the board of directors.