Wastewater plan: what will it mean for ratepayers?

Wastewater plan: what will it mean for ratepayers?

According to a news article from last week, today is supposedly the day when the final details of the consent decree between the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) and the federal government to reduce sewage overflows are to be presented.  ALCOSAN is the “exclusive agency for the collection, transportation, and treatment of wastewater for Pittsburgh and 82 neighboring municipalities” and treated 78.8 billion gallons of wastewater in 2018. 

The process goes back at least to 2000.  But in May 2007 , the original consent decree was announced to guide ALCOSAN’s “upgrades over the next 20 years that will greatly reduce sewage overflows.” The plan went to federal regulatory review in January 2013.  Three years later an article noted that modifications to ALCOSAN’s plan would extend the 20-year compliance deadline “by more than a decade.” 

What will the final plan mean for customers in the service area, whose rate is set by a board made up of seven appointees (three by the mayor of Pittsburgh and three by the Allegheny County executive, with approval by respective councils, and one jointly)? 

In 2007 the ALCOSAN spokesperson at the time asked rhetorically “Will our rates continue to go up? Absolutely.  Will they jump 25 percent in one year? No.”  That year the rate was $2.98 per 1,000 gallons of water consumption.  The only double-digit increase in the next four years was in 2009 when the rate went up 16 percent. By 2013, when regulatory review began, the rate was $4.32.  What followed were increases of 17 percent and three years of 11 percent increases per year as part of a four-year rate increase schedule approved by the board. 

Beginning in 2018 a second four-year rate increase of 7 percent per year began.  This year, which is the second year of that time period, the rate is $7.94 per 1,000 gallons.  If the planned rate hike for 2020 is not affected by today’s announcement, the rate should be $8.49. 

ALCOSAN also levies a service charge and member municipalities levy their own sewer fees for their infrastructure.