Point State Park seen from the river. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Last week, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) committed to spending millions on green infrastructure across the region. But some environmental groups say the funds are just a drop in the river.

On Sept. 27, ALCOSAN announced the latest round of grants for its Green Revitalization of Our Waterways (GROW) program, which helps smaller boroughs and municipalities fund the creation and redevelopment of new green infrastructure.

Along with approving $9,733,836 for dozens of new projects across the county, the ALCOSAN board voted to increase the spending cap for all future projects from $2 to $10 million.

“The board felt it was time to change the funding structure to better react to projects that could be submitted in future cycles,” said ALCOSAN Executive Director Arletta Scott Williams.

A total of 21 communities across the county received grants.

Dormont received $91,870 to reduce infiltration along West Liberty Avenue, Fox Chapel was given $251,400 to replace a sewer line and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) took home $1,224,300 to build green stormwater infrastructure in Riverview Park.

The announcement comes just a week after ALCOSAN unveiled their EPA-approved plan for reducing stormwater overflow and opened the plan up for public comment.

That proposal calls for spending $2 billion to upgrade our regional stormwater system over the next 17 years. Much of that money will go toward expanding the capacity of the existing ALCOSAN treatment center and building a series of new concrete sewage tunnels along the three rivers. But some funds will support the expansion of the GROW program and other green infrastructure projects.

Local civic leaders and environmental groups quickly responded with concerns about the authority prioritizing traditional infrastructure.

In an interview with NEXTpittsburgh, PennEnvironment Clean Water and Conservation Advocate Stephanie Wein said that while she welcomes ALCOSAN’s openness to green approaches, she believes it should be the primary focus of the county’s efforts, not an offshoot.

“When you’re talking about billions of dollars for water infrastructure, the fact that we’re talking about $9 million for green infrastructure is a very 20th-century approach,” she said. “We need to be investing much more of this really large program in green infrastructure.”

Speaking at the launch of the report earlier this month, Williams emphasized that ALCOSAN is more than willing to amend the plan to include more green infrastructure based on the input they receive during the 60-day public comment period.

But in an interview with NEXTpittsburgh today, ALCOSAN Director of Communications Joey Vallarian said the organization had not yet received instructions from the federal government on when and how residents can comment on the plan.

Stay tuned for updates once that information is available.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.