Bipartisan bill proposes putting Pittsburgh’s water authority under state oversight

“The customers of PWSA need to know that their water is safe and that they are properly billed for their usage.”

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Update: May 30, 11:45 a.m.

State Sen. Jay Costa also plans to introduce legislation that would put PWSA under PUC oversight, according to a co-sponsorship memo.

“My legislation will extend the PUC’s authority, usually restricted to private systems, to the PWSA, and redefine the system as a utility,” wrote Costa, a Democrat from Allegheny County. “This will create new enforcement mechanisms to keep the PWSA moving forward, offer customers new protections and input, and opportunities for the authority to more strategically envision it’s future ratemaking and infrastructure investment plans.”

Original post

Two lawmakers from Allegheny County are proposing to put Pittsburgh’s troubled water and sewer authority under the oversight of the state.

House Speaker Mike Turzai and Rep. Harry Readshaw, a Democrat who represents part of Pittsburgh, plan to introduce a bill that would put PWSA under Public Utility Commission oversight.

“Over the last year, local and national newspapers have recounted the many service issues facing PWSA from multi-million dollar debt and uncollectibles, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks and non-compliance with federal water quality mandates,” the lawmakers wrote in a co-sponsorship memo. “These issues call into serious question the sustainability of PWSA and the health and safety of those served by the system. The customers of PWSA need to know that their water is safe and that they are properly billed for their usage.”

The bill would require PWSA’s board of directors “to bring the system into compliance with the requirements of Title 66 of the PA Statutes [the section that governs public utilities] and PUC regulations applicable to investor-owned water and wastewater utilities,” the memo states. The lawmakers note that this move would not be unprecedented, as PUC was given oversight of Philadelphia Gas Works in 1999.

PWSA has faced years of complaints about billing issues, but concerns about high lead levels in the water at some residences have taken center stage. The city is currently distributing thousands of free water pitchers as a stopgap measure and recently hired Maryland-based Infrastructure Management Group Inc. to handle a possible restructuring of PWSA.

Pittsburgh City Council has requested an audit of PWSA by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, which the mayor’s office and PWSA have voiced support for.

“We are not opposed to additional state cooperation to improve our water and sewer authority for residents of our city, and we have been working hard with the state Department of Environmental Protection to complete a full restructuring of PWSA,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. “We welcome further conversations about this proposed PUC legislation, and are already inviting additional oversight and financial support from Harrisburg to help us rebuild our water system. The legislation would need to assure residents of Pittsburgh that the water system remains a public asset, and that PUC oversight would not be used as a mechanism to force privatization.”

Peduto told reporters that his office was not notified about the proposal, Aaron Martin of WPXI tweeted.

A spokesperson for the Public Utility Commission told The Incline the agency “will carefully review the legislation.”

A statement from the mayor has been updated.

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