Pittsburgh's Stormwater Challenge

Defining the Problem

Too much rain

Pittsburgh averages 38 inches of rain a year, which would be manageable if it were spread out evenly over 365 days. But with more severe storms that dump a lot of rain quickly, and with so much pavement on the ground, that rain has to go somewhere. 

In Pittsburgh, stormwater can combine with wastewater (what we flush from our toilets and goes down the drain). When it rains a lot, that sewer system gets overwhelmed, and instead of sending the sewage to the treatment plant to be treated, the system dumps it in the river or it backs up into people's basements.

The current system can only handle so much. 

Pittsburgh's aging water infrastructure was built for a different time - for context, when much of our system was constructed, 20 inclines still dotted our hillsides and KDKA hadn't created commercial radio yet. Our landscape was different. Communities had more green space and less pavement or hard surfaces. Today, the stormwater infrastructure frequently gets overwhelmed. It overflowed 65 times in 2017, pumping raw sewage into our rivers (Pittsburgh Magazine, July 18, 2018).

Inadequate management of stormwater 

Basement backups, neighborhood flooding and stormwater overflowing into our rivers is a public health and safety issue, and an economic issue. Management of the stormwater sewer system has been inconsistent and incomplete for decades.  

The current rate structure is not equitable

Many people pay too much compared to how much stormwater their property generates, while other properties that contribute a large amount of stormwater pay very little or nothing at all.

Stormwater Management Solutions

Using Green Stormwater Infrastructure

PWSA is building an innovative stormwater management system, designed to absorb or redirect as much rainwater as possible before it enters our overburdened sewer system. Relying on PWSA's expertise in this field, neighborhoods will benefit from several stormwater management projects already under construction or in the pipeline. 

Implementing Stormwater Fee

We can't stop the rain, but we're trying to mitigate the problems of stormwater where we can and build flood-prepared communities. With the change in stormwater fees, PWSA will be able to build more projects across the city, making Pittsburgh like a sponge that absorbs more gallons of stormwater before that water causes problems. These projects can also treat water on site, so when it is released it doesn't pollute our rivers. 


Fewer Basement Backups + Less Pollution = A Healthier and Better Pittsburgh

By changing how PWSA charges for stormwater, we can fix how we manage stormwater and provide multiple benefits in the process:

  • Significant reduction in the amount of sewage and pollution entering our rivers, which is a public health win for us and our neighbors downstream.
  • Fewer homes with flooded basements, which is an improvement for health and safety of residents.
  • Fewer taxpayer dollars needed for costly flood repairs.
  • Making Pittsburgh more attractive to residents, newcomers, and businesses.  Waterfront redevelopment is a boon to the community, but it will only succeed if the rivers are clean.
  • A funding mechanism that is truly equitable, in which everyone pays their fair share for stormwater.