PITTSBURGH – As they say, when it rains, it pours, but in the sloping streets of Pittsburgh, water is not the only thing rolling downhill. Rainwater carries debris that can cause clogging, overflowing and damage as it enters the sewer system.
Erosive materials flowing into gutters can damage water treatment facilities, resulting in millions of dollars in repair costs over time.
To combat the grit problem, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District signed a partnership agreement with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), which will construct a grit chamber along Spring Garden Run, a neighborhood located in the northern area of Pittsburgh.
“It’s not our first time working with ALCOSAN. Our partnership goes back a long way, at least 20 years. We’ve worked on five projects totaling more than $14 million, so it’s already a strong partnership. This signing is just another addition to ensure this project is successfully completed in a timely manner,” said Col. Adam Czekanski, commander of the Pittsburgh District, during a Jan. 11 ceremony with ALCOSAN to make the project official through the signing of the Public Partnership Agreement.
The Corps estimates the grit chamber will cost approximately $4.3 million, with work expected to finish by the end of 2024. ALCOSAN expects the chamber to remove 200,000 pounds of grit and sediment annually.
“By partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers, ALCOSAN can complete this project without increasing costs to taxpayers,” said Cassandra P. Forsyth, project manager for the Pittsburgh District. “It is very exciting to be part of this program that supports infrastructure projects that benefit smaller communities.”
The agreement signing means the federal government will share the project cost with ALCOSAN at a 75 to 25 percent rate. ALCOSAN provides wastewater treatment services to 83 communities throughout Allegheny County.
The grit chamber project in Spring Garden was selected because its municipal sewers have many natural streams feeding into them, bringing substantial sediment into the overall ALCOSAN system. The system will also help keep debris and sediment out of the soon-to-be-built Ohio River Tunnel.
“The investment that we’re putting in the ground is worth billions of dollars,” said Michelle Buys, the director of Environmental Compliance for ALCOSAN, who signed the agreement alongside Czekanski. “The project protects that investment for the longevity of its life. Instead of digging 100 feet deep to remove grit, the chamber will keep it on the surface where it can be maintained and removed.”
Section 313 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) will fund the project. The section includes a total fund of $410 million to support communities in South Central Pennsylvania for projects like wastewater treatment, water supply, storage treatment, water distribution and other water-related needs. Section 313 funds are spread out across multiple projects over a course of several years until the funds run out or Congress increases them.
“This is really important in our movement forward,” said Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive. “Not only are we going to help the folks of the city neighborhoods of Troy Hill, Spring Garden and East Allegheny and make this whole system more efficient, (but also) make the continued movement toward keeping our rivers as clean as they can be.”
The grit chamber will consist of three cells separated by baffles. Water fills the chamber, allowing solids such as sand, ash, small rocks, sediment, or other heavier materials to settle to the bottom.
Unfiltered sediment could cause scour and blockages in the piping system that increases risk of overflows during high rain events. Unwanted solids that reach the treatment facility can cause premature wear and unintended maintenance issues to system components.
“Without the Pittsburgh District, these projects wouldn’t get kicked off. The partnership allows a community of effort. It benefits not only Reserve Township but the city of Pittsburgh, the surrounding communities, and the longevity of our public system,” Buys said.
Community and project sponsors interested in receiving WRDA funds assistance for a water infrastructure project should first contact the Army Corps of Engineers with a letter of intent.
Once the Army Corps of Engineers signs a Public Partnership Agreement with a sponsor, the money becomes obligated, and their partnership begins. One benefit, however, is some funding can be applied retroactively.
“We can reimburse sponsors for projects that were constructed up to six years ago from the Project Partnership Agreement signing event,” Forsyth said.
In addition to the grit chamber project, the Pittsburgh District plans on entering in agreement with other community projects funded by Section 313 later this year to assist small and underfunded communities with infrastructure construction, repairs and upgrades for projects related to water supply and distribution, wastewater treatment, and critical source water protection.
“Currently, in our district, we're working with six different communities on projects saving them about $12 million because of the partnership we have with them. That's $12 million they don't have to spend on upgrading drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure,” Czekanski said.
Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland, and southwestern New York. The district’s jurisdiction has more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood-control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects, and other projects to protect and enhance the Nation’s water resources, infrastructure, and environment.