How we got here

The story of Allegheny County’s wastewater treatment challenge, like similar situations in many older American cities, started hundreds of years ago.

Before the completion of ALCOSAN’s interceptor sewer system and treatment plant in 1959, raw sewage and industrial waste flowed directly into district waterways. The thinking at the time was that dilution was the solution. That wasn’t true, and treating rivers and streams like disposal systems was devastating.

It’s hard to imagine when looking at the recreational activity on the rivers today that, in the lifetime of many of the region’s residents, swimming or fishing in the rivers was risky business.

We’ve come a long way. Unfortunately, that transformation has led to some misunderstanding about the quality of the rivers today. Yes, they are vastly better than they once were. And yes, aquatic life is much improved as well. But we still have a long way to go, and that’s why ALCOSAN needs to significantly upgrade its processes and facilities.

In spite of growing knowledge of the environment, updates to ALCOSAN facilities and evolving federal, state and local regulations, overflows of untreated wastewater into rivers and streams still happen all too often. When those overflows occur, ALCOSAN alerts the public to avoid direct contact with the water by way of email, text message and flags posted at riverbank sites. Our goal is to avoid those overflows, and environmental laws require it.

In a nutshell, that’s how we got to the point where strategic, comprehensive improvement plan is necessary. If you want more details about ALCOSAN’s history, it’s available on our website.

In future posts, you will learn more about the components of the plan that that will produce the change for the better that we need.

Arletta Scott Williams
ALCOSAN Executive Director

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