- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The city and Allegheny County want the state Department of Environmental Protection to give them more time to include more “green” solutions to the region’s sewer system problems.

The antiquated sewers overflow during heavy rains because storm drains are tied to sewers in way no longer permitted under environmental laws. The overflows cause raw sewage to flow into the city’s rivers.

Mayor Bill Peduto wants the DEP to extend a March 30 deadline for a plan to fix the problem so the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority can include more “green” remedies - such as rain barrels, porous pavement and “green” roofs - which are covered with turf and plants - all of which can soak up rain.

“Instead of building a funnel, you build a sponge,” Peduto said Tuesday. “You decide how much of the water can be retained. Then you determine how much gray you need to build.”

By adopting more “green” solutions, those “gray” solutions - the need to build bigger sewers and overflow tanks - will be diminished, saving ratepayers money, Peduto said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is also working with the city and county on the solution, has previously said it’s willing to consider changes to a multi-billion dollar plan to fix the Alcosan sewers which snake through Pittsburgh and 82 other municipalities.

In 2012, Alcosan asked the EPA for permission to spend just $2 billion upgrading the area’s sewers because a $3.6-billion plan the government sought would increase customer rates more than EPA regulations allow.

Alcosan has already paid a $1.2 million federal fine for the overflows and under a 2008 consent decree with the EPA has until 2026 to fix the problem. If the $2 billion plan is allowed, it would still double the average customer’s annual bill of $265.

The March 30 deadline, though imposed by the DEP, is part of a combined state-federal regulatory process governing the sewer upgrades.

The city and county want another 18 months to implement and develop more “green” solutions in hopes of further cutting the project’s cost. That includes an extra year for the city and county to meet the state deadline, and another six months for Alcosan to incorporate those changes into the federal consent decree.

“We’re already way behind Cleveland, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C.,” Peduto said. “All have understood that if you limit the amount of water going into the system it costs a lot less to build the system.”

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