A City Council committee is slated to explore whether Philadelphia’s collection of private sewer pipes could become publicly owned and maintained.
As a result of a recently passed resolution, Council’s Streets and Services Committee will take up the matter through a series of yet-to-be-scheduled hearings.
Approximately 2,000 households are connected to the city’s sewer and water system through pipes that currently sit outside the purview of the Philadelphia Water Department, about 72 miles of them in all. ( PWD’s sewer and water system covers about 3,000 miles.)
Northwest Philly homes involved
Those homes, mostly located in Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia, are PWD customers. As such, they pay for their monthly water usage and cover fees for sewer maintenance and stormwater management.
Pipe maintenance, however, is largely uncovered for residents with private sewers.
While PWD will perform some basic cleaning at no cost to those customers, they do not cover more serious cleaning efforts or sewer repairs that require a private contractor.
When needed, residents share those costs.
Of those 72 miles, properties in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown, specifically the 5800 block of Knox St., would be among those affected, said Joseph Corrigan, spokesman for City Councilwoman Cindy Bass.
He also noted that it’s not an issue of flooding, but one of infrastructure upkeep.
Bass introduces resolution
That scenario is troubling for at least a handful of councilmembers, including Bass, who represents the city’s Eighth Councilmatic District in Northwest Philadelphia.
The first-term official sits on the Streets Committee and drafted the resolution that was introduced and passed in September.
“You have city taxpayers who are paying for sewer services [but] don’t get the same benefits as their neighbors that might be 500 feet away,” said Robert Bembrey, who serves as Bass’ zoning and business development liaison.
Water Department response
In an email to NewsWorks, PWD spokesperson Joanne Dahme said that the utility does not have plans to take ownership of the city’s private sewers.
“It would be extremely costly and difficult for PWD to take over private sewers,” said Dahme. “We would be taking on another 72 miles of sewers that do not meet our specifications and that are often very difficult for us to reach.”
Dahme noted that residents with private sewers can have a public sewer installed or be connected to an existing public pipe if a particular repair is no longer cost-effective.
A City Council ordinance would be needed to install a new public sewer.
The process of having that sewer installed can take between five and seven years. Residents would be billed a “sewer assessment” afterwards based on, among other things, the width of their property.
The committee hearings have not yet been scheduled. Corrigan said that ideally, they’d be scheduled between now and late December.
“We’re waiting on the clerk’s office,” he said.