New report documents billions of gallons of sewer overflows in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Daniel Brown

Former Western Pennsylvania Field Organizer, PennEnvironment

Stronger action needed to protect the Three Rivers from sewage pollution

PITTSBURGH  – Unless regional planners devise and implement stronger protections, 2.7 billion gallons of sewage overflows are projected to plague Allegheny County’s rivers and streams by 2036, according to a new report, Clean Water for the Three Rivers.  As the Clean Water Act marks its 50th birthday this month, Environment America Research and Policy Center’s new report recommends stronger policies and more funding to prevent sewage and runoff pollution from flowing into the region’s rivers and streams.

“Pittsburghers are inextricably linked to our incredible Three Rivers. They contribute to our quality of life, drive our economy, and they’re the drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of nearby residents,” said Dan Brown, Field Organizer at the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, who is releasing the report for Environment America. “It’s critical we take the steps to protect them from pollution and make our Three Rivers safe for fishing, swimming and other activities.”

Using regional data, the report confirms a severe sewage overflow problem in Allegheny County, including:

  • 9 billion gallons of sewage overflows flow into the Three Rivers and other regional waterways each year;
  • 115 outfalls release untreated wastewater nearly 50 times per year; and
  • Nearly 40 sites release untreated wastewater for more than 480 hours (20 days) per year. 

An interactive map accompanying the report lets the public see the location of the worst sewage outfalls in the region, which affect the lives of people in Allegheny County.

“As climate change increases, so will storm sizes and frequencies, leading to more river pollution and flooding. This is a public health issue that impacts all of our communities” says Mike Hiller of UpstreamPgh.

Unless further action is taken, the problem is likely to get worse. More paved surfaces and  intense rainfall exacerbate the conditions that create the perfect storm for sewage overflows. 

New funding, both from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Law and local stormwater fees, can be used to accelerate construction of green infrastructure and repair of gray infrastructure  — such as permeable pavement, trees, and rain barrels — to absorb stormwater on-site. And municipalities in the region can adopt policies to preserve remaining forests and wetlands, which absorb stormwater, and to retrofit existing development.

“Ensuring that citizens have access to clean waterways and a safe environment are fundamental responsibilities of government” said Pittsburgh City Councilperson Erika Strassburger. “Local public utilities have already poured millions of dollars into protecting our rivers, streams, and neighborhoods from future sewage and runoff disasters, but we need even more resources in order to stormproof these systems over the long-term. I look forward to continued coordination between the relevant governing bodies, environmental advocates, and the public to shore up this vital infrastructure.”

“We are at a critical crossroads for water infrastructure,” said John Rumpler, Clean Water Program Director for Environment America Research and Policy Center and a co-author of the report.  “By adopting stronger policies and accessing newly available funds, local officials in Allegheny County can secure a cleaner future for the Three Rivers.”