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Green Solutions Offered For Big Sewer Fix

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The cost of cleaning our rivers and streams will be astronomical, promising to send your water and sewer bill through the roof over the next decade.

Michael Krancer, the state's top environmental official, says there's no way around it.

"It's a requirement under law, and it's a requirement frankly for clean water that these things get done," Krancer said. "And we're going to have to, as a society, figure out the best and most economical way to do it."

But could a rain barrel take some bite out of the cost? Or green roofs or even rain gardens?

Environmentalists says these are a cheaper and more visually pleasing way of fixing the problem -- a broken-down, antiquated sewer system, which combines both storm water and sewage.

"Because not only are we going to be spending money to fix this problem, but we might as well do it with something that looks wonderful," Sara Madden, of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, said

And here's the problem. When it rains, the combine sewers overflow, gates open up and outflow pipes pump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our rivers.

It's clear that billions of dollars will be spent on new sewer lines and increasing capacity at the ALCOSAN water treatment plant.

But the idea behind this so-called "green infrastructure" is to trap that rain water before it enters the storm sewers and overburdens the system -- like a rain barrel.

The homeowner generally connects a hose to a valve, opens it, and then they can water their garden or use the water as they see fit," said Madden.

Proponents say any plan should provide residents and business rebates and financial incentives for installing rain barrels or green roofs like the one on top of the county office building.

It uses plants and permeable sands to soak up the rain water and cools the building in the summer.

Ordinarily, that water would just drain off the roof.

"One-hundred percent of that water before the green roofs were draining into the storm water systems, into the combined systems of the city," said John Schombert, of Three Rivers Wet Weather Planning.

But green solutions do have their limits.

"We're talking about an enormous amount of flow being produced in our communities," said Schombert. "And it's unlikely that green infrastructure alone is capable of handling that. I think what we're going to see is a menu of different approaches."

Green infrastructure can only go so far in cleaning up our rivers, but far enough that these solutions cannot be ignored and need to be an integral part of the big fix.

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