Monday, March 27, 2006

Authoritah pt. 3

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I'm late on this one, but it fits into the theme. Voila:

If the sewer lines that run through the city of Pittsburgh suddenly shut down, every toilet from South Fayette to Ross to Monroeville would be useless.

That's why suburban municipalities should contribute to the cost of maintaining the pipes that run from the city's borders to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority's treatment plant in Woods Run, according to an audit released by the city controller's office yesterday.

The audit calls on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which maintains the lines, to negotiate new agreements with 25 bordering municipalities whose sewer lines connect to the city's. The authority has old agreements with 10 municipalities and has collected $2.24 million from them since 1991...

Authority Executive Director Greg Tutsock said the authority wouldn't shut pipelines down but would appeal to a spirit of cooperation. Suburban municipalities "have a stake in making sure these [sewer] lines work," he said. "To be partners, we have to all work together."

He said it would take time and legal research to decide how best to pursue suburban help.

Sewer providers for all 83 of the municipalities served by Alcosan are under the consent agreement, which requires a dramatic reduction in the amount of sewage that flows into the rivers. A regional organization, the 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program, seeks to coordinate their efforts to comply.
For those of you that are interested in things like sewage, you should check out this map showing regional draingage areas, sewage lines, and municipal boundaries.

Actually, when you check out the map, you'll notice something unsurprising: drainage areas do not reflect municipal boundaries. Drainage areas have been carved out by thousands of years of geological and glacier movement; municipal lines were carved out by drunken surveyors... or at least it seems that way.*

This is an important point and should be emphasized as it reflects local policies on storm and waste water matters: what happens in one municipality directly effects what happens further down the drainage area of the next. If South Fayette clear cuts a hillside, the resulting runoff will flood Moon Run in Robinson, with little impact on South Fayette itself. Robinson Township's decisions effect Crafton, which effect the City... etc. The result is a clasic negative externality example in which the costs of a decision are not borne by the decision maker.

To emphasize this relationship, it is put as this eloquent appeal: "We All Live Downstream."

Or, less eloquently: "Shit Flows Downhill."

And, of course, Pittsburgh is near the bottom of that stream/hill, so it will be up to the City to deal with the shitty issues, either in concert with its neighbors or alone... which is, now that I think about it, pretty much a good metaphor for regionalism 'round these parts.

And O'Connor's Water and Sewer Authoritah is at the forefront of this divisive public policy issue.

*Honestly, have you taken a look at O'Hara Township on a map? It looks like Fox Chapel is Star Jones trying to muscle her way into the buffet.

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