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$3 billion will be spent to clean up rivers and streams in the Pittsburgh area. How will it impact your bill?

Billions of dollars to be spent to clean up rivers and streams in Pittsburgh area
Billions of dollars to be spent to clean up rivers and streams in Pittsburgh area 04:12

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The multi-billion dollar construction project to clean up the rivers in southwestern Pennsylvania is on the horizon.

It's the largest public works project in the history of the region. Three billion dollars will be spent to clean up the rivers and streams, and if all goes well, the project developers say you'll hardly notice it's happening.

Every time it rains, our combined storm and sanitary sewer system gets overloaded and spills raw sewage into our rivers and streams. Nine billion gallons of it every year, posing a health threat to boaters and the rest of the public.

Years back, the federal government ordered Alcosan to fix it. And the authority came up with a plan: double the capacity of the treatment plant and build miles of catchment tunnels to capture the waste and keep it out of the waterways until it can be treated in time.

But while the feds approved the plan, they're not coming up with any money to pay for it, meaning ratepayers will foot the $3 billion bill.

"We owe it to this region to stop dumping the pollution into the rivers and get it down here to this treatment plant before being cleaned before being discharged back into the Ohio River," Kimberly Kennedy of Alcosan said.

In fact, ratepayers are already paying for it. A half billion dollars is going into the plant expansion and later on this year the rest of the project will go out for bid for the purchase of a giant boring machine to dig the tunnels and construction contracts to build them.

If you've ever ridden the "T" through its tunnel underneath the Allegheny River, you can begin to see the picture. Only Alcosan will be boring and constructing 17 miles of tunnels just like it, beginning with a 4.5-mile stretch along and underneath the Ohio River.

"The tunnel boring machine will start at the upper edge of the tunnel and come all the way down to the treatment plant," Kennedy said.

Alcosan has already purchased and cleared sites for two of several shafts to access the tunnels. But once the boring machine goes down some 150 feet, we'll be largely unaware of the boring and construction done below.

So, how will this project impact sewer bills? Alcosan has been raising rates by seven percent every year since 2019. The cost to the average household has gone from $381 annually to a projected $612 in 2026. The rates will continue going up until the project is complete in 2036, and that doesn't include additional expected increases from your host water and sewer authority.

And then after all that, there's still the disappointing news that the tunnels and plant expansion will not remove all of the combined sewer waste. Of the nine billion gallons a year, experts say about two billion will still find its way into the rivers. Still, Alcosan says the water will be much cleaner and your rate increases will be money well spent.

"It's worth the investment for the future of this region to have a collection system that has the capacity to capture and convey the flows that belong in a sewer system when it rains," Kennedy said. 

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