Pittsburgh’s streets have more than 25,000 storm drains, to catch stormwater and direct it into the sewer systems. Unfortunately, rainstorms often overwhelm the sewer system, and untreated sewage overflows into our streams and rivers.
That rainwater carries anything on the street — from leaves, pet waste and motor oil to deicing salt, fertilizer or other pollutants — with it. This harms local water quality, fish and wildlife, and recreation.
“The unassuming storm drains in your neighborhood are not trash cans — what goes into them can end up in our three rivers,” says Will Pickering, executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). “By taking simple actions every day to protect storm drains, we all can make a big difference for our streams and rivers.”
Sewer pipes carry stormwater directly to our streams and rivers in some places. In others, the stormwater enters sewer pipes and mixes with sewage on the way to the wastewater treatment plant. Rainstorms often inundate the combined sewer system, causing stormwater and untreated sewage to overflow into local streams and rivers.
According to the PWSA, there are simple ways to keep the sewer system from being overwhelmed by stormwater pollution:
• Do not rake or blow leaves or grass clippings into the street. Do not pile leaves or other yard waste near storm drains.
• Do not overuse deicing salt or pesticides.
• Only fertilize if necessary and do not over-apply. Select slow-release and organic fertilizers, which are less likely to wash away. Fertilize lawns in the fall to promote root growth and prevent nutrients from washing away during spring rains.
• When walking your pet, always bring a bag to scoop up waste. Make sure to clean up after your pet in your own yard, especially before it rains. Dispose of bagged pet waste in a trash can.
• Take your car to a commercial car wash, which is required to treat the dirty wash water and dispose of it properly. If you wash your car at home, make sure your car is on grass or gravel, which helps soak up and filter the wash water before it gets to storm drains.
• Do not dump yard waste, litter or other waste into storm drains.
• Where it’s safe to do so, clear leaves, litter and other debris off of storm drain grates and dispose of them properly in the trash. However, never reach inside a storm drain or lift the grate.
• If you see a clogged or broken storm drain, call PWSA’s 24/7 dispatch line at 412-255-2423 (press 1), contact @pgh2o on Twitter, or fill out a Report an Issue form online so that they can send a crew out.
The PWSA is working on several projects to mitigate stormwater in the sewer system, like the Volunteers Field Rain Garden Project. They also have a dedicated webpage about reducing stormwater pollution, with tips ranging from how to use fertilizer to how to wash your car in a way that minimizes pollution.