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PWSA rate hike and stormwater plan news | The Homepage

PWSA proposes three years of rate increases

By Ann Belser

Floodwaters on the tracks near Panther Hollow Lake on Sept. 1, 2021, when days of rain from Hurricane Rita caused severe flooding downstream in Four Mile Run. Photo by Justin Macey

Water rates in Pittsburgh are skewed so that those who use the least amount of water pay more per gallon than industries that use very large amounts. The disparity will be made worse by Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority rate increases that are scheduled to go into effect on July 8 with further increases for the following two years.

One of the reasons for the rate increase cited by the authority was that customers are using less water.

The proposed rate increases on the residential side will continue to charge customers with relatively low water use more per volume than customers who use more water. They also pay significantly more per gallon than large-scale commercial and industrial users. Education and health care facilities pay the highest rates; they will see their bills nearly double over the next three years if the proposed increases go through.

The new rates are slated to go into effect on July 8 if there are no objections from PWSA customers.

In a statement included in the May bills sent to PWSA customers, the authority said customers can write to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission up until July 8 to support or object to the rate increase. If the commission decides to hold hearings, customers can testify under oath as to their views on the rate increase. The utility commission could approve the increase, delay the increase or approve a smaller increase.

The authority currently charges residential customers a rate of $33.84 a month for the first 1,000 gallons (for water and sewer) and then $20.45 per 1,000 gallons after that.

The proposed increases by the PWSA are for water, wastewater conveyance, a fee called a “distribution system improvement charge,” and for stormwater generated by impervious areas.

The stormwater fees cost properties with large parking lots more than typical homes. A typical home is charged 1 equivalent residential unit or ERU. The rate for stormwater for a house will rise from $7.95 a month currently to $14.20 a month in 2026 under the proposed rate increases. According to the authority’s Notice of Proposed Rate Change, the average commercial property is charged eight ERUs, a typical industrial customer is charged 30 ERUs and a typical hospital or educational facility is charged for 32 ERUs.

The rates proposed will increase each year for three years by about 20%, but the real effect will be that the rising rate of the minimum charge will disproportionately affect users who use less water.

A residential customer who uses 1,000 gallons or less will see their bill increase over three years from a total of $43.48 to $75.78, a 74% increase for water and sewer, not including the separate charge for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which is not part of this increase.

Those same charges for a residence in which the occupants use 3,000 gallons, which PWSA says in its notice is average usage, will rise from $86.43 a month to $146.12 in the third year, a 68.5% increase. Residential customers with much higher water use of 12,000 gallons a month will have an even lower percentage increase of 42% as their water rate goes from $323.49 a month to $460.33.

Industrial customers will have the highest overall percentage increase, but industry will still pay less, per gallon, for water than residential customers.

Overall, the bill for an average factory will rise from the current charge of $12,934.31 a month to $24.648.17 in 2026.

If the charges for stormwater are removed, a factory’s water bill will go from $12,695.81 a month for water and wastewater conveyance to $24,209.57, a 90.6% increase over three years. But the typical factory, according to the PWSA notice, also uses 680,000 gallons a month, so the cost of water in 2026 would be $35.40 per 1,000 gallons, still significantly less than a residential user, who, without the stormwater charge, would be paying $61.58 if they only use 1,000 gallons or the typical residential user using 3,000 gallons who would pay an average of $43.83 per 1,000 gallons.

Health and education facilities currently pay $24.33 per 1,000 gallons for the first 17,000 gallons and then $22.67 for every 1,000 gallons after that. According to the PWSA’s notice, if the rate changes go through, health and education facilities will see their rates rise by just over 90% over the three years of the increases.

The authority’s notice to customers stated, “PWSA’s rate filing will support ongoing infrastructure improvements, provide needed resources to meet more stringent environmental and regulatory requirements, and address increasing energy and chemical costs related to inflation. These factors are substantially driving the need for the rate filing and, if approved, will ensure ongoing investment to modernize our water systems and provide essential water, sewer, and stormwater services for current and future generations of customers.”

Letters of support or objection to the increase can be sent to Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Post Office Box 3265, Harrisburg, PA 17105-3265.

People who want to comment if there is a hearing can call 1-800-692-7380 to leave their name and address so they can be notified of any public hearings on the proposed rate changes.

This story is published in partnership with the Pittsburgh Community Newspaper Network. It was originally printed in East End Print and has been edited lightly for style and clarity.


 

Community feedback on PWSA stormwater plan

By Ziggy Edwards


Stormwater Conversations participants in a small group discussion at the Hazelwood Healthy Active Living Center on May 23. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

About 45 people gathered at the Hazelwood Healthy Active Living Center on May 23 to hear about PWSA’s Stormwater Strategic Plan and give feedback. This was the second-to-last such meeting in a series of six “Stormwater Conversations” throughout Pittsburgh.

As attendees trickled in, representatives of PWSA and community partner organizations greeted them and answered questions. The meeting began with a presentation by Tony Igwe, PWSA’s senior group manager of stormwater. Mr. Igwe kept the tone light, sliding in a few audience-participation trivia questions about stormwater. He highlighted six actions PWSA will focus on as part of its plan:

  • Develop a communications framework

  • Establish a joint task force

  • Analyze priority areas for investment

  • Define initial investment strategies

  • Decide how “level of service” will be determined

  • Put money from the stormwater fee to good use

The meeting broke into groups based on these six actions. PWSA and community organization representatives visited different tables, asking attendees questions and writing responses on large sheets of paper.

In a June 6 email, PWSA senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito said the smaller, topic-focused discussions gave everyone a chance to “offer candid feedback and share ideas more collaboratively with neighbors and other residents.”

Feedback from the Hazelwood meeting included:

  • Requests for more transparency about the stormwater fee and how it is spent.

  • The need to use as many channels as possible to communicate with residents; people’s preferences vary.

  • The importance of coordination between PWSA and other agencies that might be doing projects in the same area. (“‘Dig once’ is something we heard,” Ms. Zito wrote.)

  • Identifying areas where it floods or there are other problems with stormwater. Several attendees mentioned the Wightman Park project in Squirrel Hill – which combines recreational areas with interventions that reduce the impact of stormwater for nearby residents – as an example of what they’d like to see in their neighborhoods.

Community partners, like the Mon Water Project in our area, helped PWSA make its plan and its meetings more accessible to the public. Annie Quinn, founder of the Mon Water Project, said PWSA was responsive to their suggestions.

“The plan is meant to be a high-level plan,” Ms. Quinn said during a June 9 phone call. “It’s a plan to plan more plans.” As a result, there aren’t many specifics to hash out yet.

However, PWSA is legally required to gather public comments and respond to them in its plan. Ms. Quinn used the example of communication, the topic on which she led small-group discussions.

“Yes, we all want transparency,” Ms. Quinn said, “But what does that look like? We got some good ideas from the tables. Even though the plan was general, there were specific ways we demanded action. PWSA now has a list of the public’s demands for how communication occurs. They went out and got these comments...We can now hold them accountable for following through.”

Other community partners include Watersheds of South Pittsburgh, UpstreamPgh, the Negley Run Watershed Task Force, the City of Pittsburgh Department of Planning, Clean Water Action, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Ms. Zito said that after the Stormwater Conversations series, PWSA will add the public’s comments to their Stormwater Strategic Plan.

“We’ll need to determine which ideas to implement in the short-term versus those that will take more time,” she added.

Read PWSA’s Stormwater Strategic Plan at www.pgh2o.com/swsp. Read the Mon Water Project’s responses to some of the plan’s six actions at www.monwaterproject.org/initiatives.

Ziggy Edwards is a regular contributor to The Homepage and a resident of Four Mile Run.


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