Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed my Senate Bill 656 (SB 656)that would allow local governments to tap government funding sources to help citizens fund sewer and waterline repairs — especially when public health or safety are at risk. Given the lengthy process it takes sometimes for bills to pass the General Assembly, I found it best to have my language inserted into one of the budget bills. By putting SB 656 into the Fiscal Code, this will expedite the commonwealth’s ability to start addressing private water and sewer laterals in a more timely manner.
Under every residence and business, there are private sewer laterals and water service lines that connect to the public water systems. Unbeknown to many home owners is that they own and are responsible for the water and sewer lines that are on their property. More recently, local municipalities have come across problems with privately owned waterlines that contain lead and need repaired or replaced. While the water quality consistently meets federal water standards through the public water pipes, it has been found that sometimes the private residential lines contain lead which then contaminates the clean water supply coming in from public lines as it goes into homes and businesses.
The same can be said of sewer lateral lines. The problem lies in what is known as I & I which is infiltration and inflow. When you have broken laterals, I & I of contaminated water or sewage enters into the clean part of the system instead of staying out of it. Identifying and removing I & I from our aging collection system is absolutely necessary because not only are they a cause for potholes or sinkholes, but also pose a risk to residents’ health and safety.
Addressing water and sewer lateral issues has become a challenge across the state, particularly for local municipalities, since prices for repairs range between $5,000 and $35,000. Furthermore, many authorities have found very few homeowners comply with the requirement to make these necessary repairs or are unable to pay these large costs, thus compromising our sewer system and water supply even more.
Thanks to passage of Act 44, local municipalities and municipal authorities will now be able to make public funds available to repair or replace broken sewer laterals or contaminated waterlines when they pose a threat to the public health or safety. It is important to highlight that this act does not force any municipality to participate and is only enabling legislation. It would be up to each local water authority to decide if they want to designate public funding for such a cause and determine the guidelines for eligibility for such a program.
Replacing aging lead waterlines and broken sewer laterals are a costly undertaking. My legislation gives communities more options and flexibility to help citizens replace aging sewer laterals and waterlines on their property – ultimately improving the safety and reliability of Pennsylvania’s water systems. Not to mention it will actually save money for local municipalities in the long run since the replacement of faulty lines can be done all at one time. Passage of Act 44 is not only a significant win for the City of Pittsburgh, but for all residents of Pennsylvania.