It’s a very simple principle: water has to go somewhere. Ideally, water that comes from the sky should be absorbed into the earth. But as we cover more and more of the earth with asphalt, the water’s path into the ground isn’t as easy.
A built-out community such as Mt. Lebanon has many impervious surfaces—rooftops, driveways, patios, parking lots, swimming pools and other man-made structures—that do not allow rain or snow melt to infiltrate at the same rate as natural surfaces such as grass or dirt. Storm sewers were not built when much of Mt. Lebanon was developed. The excess water flows into an already overburdened storm water overflow system, sometimes causing flooding and carrying litter and other forms of pollution into streams and rivers.
About 14 percent of Mt. Lebanon’s 3,891 acres is impervious to storm water runoff—either pavement or rooftop. The estimated cost of mandated upgrades to bring the system up to date over the next five years will exceed $2 million. In addition to the capital improvements, maintenance, operations and monitoring is expected to add millions more dollars to Mt. Lebanon’s storm water control budget.
The need for a separate funding mechanism for storm water-related repairs and reconstruction became apparent as the severity of the problem increased. In the years before 2011, funds for repairing and maintaining the storm water system came from the municipality’s general fund as part of the operating budget. Any major project needed to be funded through a bond issue. Funding to mitigate the problem with storm water runoff had to compete with equally important requests from other municipal departments.
Last year, the Mt. Lebanon Commission voted to establish a storm water fund by collecting a small monthly fee from property owners based on the amount of impervious property they owned—property covered with asphalt or otherwise unable to absorb rain water. Mt. Lebanon’s storm water fee was only the second in the state. Philadelphia took the first action in 2009.
Under the plan, single-family households are assessed a monthly fee of $8. The fee is assessed three times a year in $32 installments with a two percent discount for paying the entire year’s worth in a lump sum. Residents can receive a one-time credit of up to $50 for installing a rain barrel on their property to collect rainwater and keep it out of the system. (To learn more about rain barrels, visit the Citizens’ Guide section of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, www.ninemilerun.org).
The fee provides funding for operations and maintenance of the storm water infrastructure, administration of Mt. Lebanon’s federally mandated municipal permit requirements, engineering and technical review staff, and design and construction of capital improvements. It also will pay for water quality monitoring and management systems required by the federal government under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.
Mt. Lebanon’s approach to funding stormwater improvements has gotten some praise from Sustainability Pittsburgh, a public policy advocacy group that promotes an integrative approach to sustainabile growth in the region. In July, Dan Deiseroth, Mt. Lebanon’s consulting engineer, Kathleen Hrabovsky of Mt. Lebanon’s Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) and Mt. Lebanon Commissioner Kristen Linfante, commission liaison to the ESB, spoke at a community coordinator’s meeting convened to discuss the utility and other green initiatives with leaders from other communities.
Deiseroth’s firm, Gateway Engineers, will have a feasibility study for Mt. Lebanon’s storm water improvements ready by next year. The study will identify capacity deficiencies and possible solutions.
As a result of the fund, which has been established for more than a year, $1,047,289 has been budgeted for capital improvements—$500,000 for curb replacement and the rest earmarked for other capital projects. The municipality completed $417,339 worth of curb replacement this year. The unspent portion of the money was returned to the budget.
“Curbs are a very important part of the stormwater system,” says Public Works Director Tom Kelley. “Curbs contain and direct stormwater water flowing from driveways and roof drains into inlets along the street and stormwater pipes that flow into streams.”
Other projects completed this year include:
- New storm sewers on Lindendale Drive, from 959 to 991 Lindendale, and at the end of Adeline Avenue, to collect excess runoff from the MainLine development.
- Storm sewer repair at Valleyview and Osage drives, to solve a problem there with icing in cold weather.
- Re-routing of a storm sewer on Sunrise Drive. During reconstruction on Sunrise, contractors discovered a concrete vault under the roadway. They removed it and reconnected the sewer line to the nearest manhole.
- Adjustment of storm sewers on Racine and Shadowlawn avenues. These changes were made to improve runoff flow.
- Federally mandated water testing to identify sources of illegal discharges, as required by the Multiple Separate Storm Sewer System Permit Program.
- Closed-circuit television footage of 5,770 linear feet of storm sewers to determine the sewers’ condition and connectivity.
Currently, crews are working on stabilizing the stream bank along Scrubgrass Road to thwart erosion during storms, and on survey and design work for a new storm sewer on Castle Shannon Boulevard. Deiseroth also is preparing a bid package for an upgrade of the storm sewer system on Sleepy Hollow Road, a project scheduled to begin in 2013.