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Learn about The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, including Featured News, Key Projects, The Team, and Performance Metrics.
Pittsburgh, PA - Today the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) was invited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to apply for a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan. If approved, it would provide 49% of the funding needed for critical water infrastructure projects that would lead to the complete restoration of the Clearwell, a large, century old water storage facility.
After submitting a letter of interest in October, PWSA was one of 55 applicants invited to move to the next round for these competitive federal loans. The WIFIA program, established in 2014, funds water infrastructure improvements across the country focused on improving water quality, creating jobs, and ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water.
“We are proud of this recognition from the EPA and appreciate the opportunity to advance to the application process,” stated Ed Barca, PWSA’s Director of Finance. “WIFIA funding is highly competitive and our formal application will continue to demonstrate the significance of these projects.”
If PWSA’s application is approved, the low-interest loan would provide approximately $127,901,498 to fund a series of once-in-a-generation projects to renew key components of our water production and distribution systems. These projects will strengthen our water system, add needed redundancy, and ensure an uninterrupted supply of quality water. The capital projects that make up our plan culminate with the restoration of the Clearwell and includes rehabilitating the Aspinwall and Bruecken Pump Stations, replacing reservoir liners and cover systems, updating electrical and backup power systems, restoring pump stations, and repairing or replacing various large-diameter water mains throughout the system.
These critical projects, which total nearly $250 million, are a significant part of our $1.2 billion Capital Improvement Program. We are seeking other funding sources to support the remaining cost of these projects.
Criteria used by the EPA to evaluate projects include project readiness, credit worthiness, and national or regional impact of the project. Our critical water infrastructure projects stood out among 67 letters of interest requesting more than $9 billion and was selected to move forward due to water quality improvements that will benefit our drinking water customers, ability to meet water quality regulations, create jobs, and support the growth of Pittsburgh’s local economy.
“PWSA is embarking upon the largest capital investment in its history. Securing low interest state and federal loans will help to reduce long term costs to our ratepayers,” stated Will Pickering, PWSA’s Chief Executive Officer. “As a publicly owned and controlled utility, every dollar is reinvested back into the water system, and we will continue to pursue opportunities like WIFIA to keep rates as affordable as possible.”
Pittsburgh, PA — The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is proud to announce that its existing Community Lead Response, a multi-faceted approach to remove lead from Pittsburgh’s water distribution system, already meets many of the standards found in the recently upgraded Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). On December 22nd, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced updates to the LCR, a 30-year-old federal regulation that protects communities across the United States from the risks of lead exposure.
PWSA joined other cities with aging lead infrastructure to share their hands-on experience of reducing lead levels in water and replacing lead service lines with the EPA. Since testing over the federal “action limit” in 2016, PWSA’s Community Lead Response team has worked continuously to provide easy-to-understand information about lead in water, provides free lead test kits and water pitcher filters for those with high lead levels and has implemented several multi-million-dollar construction programs to replace lead service lines with a non-lead material.
Some of the updates to the LCR include more accurate testing parameters for lead in tap water. New regulations require testers to sample the fifth bottle of water taken from the tap. Drawing multiple bottles ensures that the last bottle of water has sufficient contact time with the lead service line. PWSA already tests many homes across the distribution system using the EPA's present method to monitor lead and will continue its testing with the revised method.
Water providers are also required to test only homes with confirmed lead service lines when collecting samples for compliance testing. This can be done through historical records or physical inspection. Previously, residents could self-assess their service line and plumbing materials. PWSA’s present program tests homes with confirmed lead service lines, using curb box inspections and other historical data to make the confirmation.
There are new, stricter regulations for water systems that reach 10 ppb in their compliance sampling submitted to regulators. This will require systems to begin lead remediation efforts before they reach the EPA action limit of 15 ppb.
Through extensive scientific and engineering efforts over the past four years, PWSA has shown the lowest lead levels in the distribution system in twenty years, ensuring it is well within federal compliance. Reducing lead levels for all Pittsburgh residents protects public health and ensures the safety of our drinking water.
Providers must also notify customers with elevated tap water samples and provide options for reducing lead. PWSA has already set this standard for itself, reaching out directly to customers with elevated lead levels to determine the source of lead in the home, and providing tips for reducing lead levels like flushing, filters, or lead service line replacement through one of our programs.
Water providers will also begin working with schools and childcare facilities to test for lead in buildings that serve children. This is a new requirement of the LCR and PWSA will begin working with these institutions across Pittsburgh to test water and identify lead risks.
The updated LCR includes a ban on partial lead service line replacements. Removing only a portion of a lead service line can disrupt the pipe and cause dangerous spikes in lead. Additionally, partial replacements leave behind a portion of the lead line which will continue to pose a risk to the residents.
PWSA’s lead service line replacement program engages the property owner when a lead service line is found to coordinate the replacement and fully remove the risk at no cost to the customer. In Pennsylvania, private service line replacement by PWSA was made possible by a change to state legislation that would allow public authorities, like PWSA, to use ratepayer dollars to complete this important work on private property. Reversely, when a customer approaches PWSA ready to replace their private lead service line on their own, PWSA will coordinate to replace the public lead service line at the same time.
Water providers are now required to keep a public inventory of lead service lines. They now must notify homeowners when lead is present and share options for reducing lead. PWSA’s lead service line inventory has been publicly available since 2018, at www.pgh2o.com/leadmap. This map gives residents the tools to make decisions about their tap water. PWSA will adhere to the LCR revisions and begin to notify customers annually of their options if they have a lead service line.
Continuing our efforts
To date, PWSA has replaced over 8,100 public service lines and is working towards its goal of removing all lead from the distribution system by 2026. Since its regulatory lead exceedance in 2016, PWSA has worked hard to invest money in removing the risk of lead from the system and regaining the trust of its customers.
“Many of the revisions that were proposed in the draft are already standard practice,” said PWSA Chief Executive Officer, Will Pickering. “Some of our procedures even exceed the standards set by our federal regulators. We are proud of our program and will begin implementing what is required of us in this LCR update,” he said.
2020 was a year, unlike any other. Punctuated by the pandemic, it forced us to quickly adapt to a new reality while delivering safe and reliable water services. Our top priority was the health and safety of our workforce and our customers.
With these realities in mind, our board voted unanimously to suspend water shutoffs and we waived many of the requirements to enroll in customer assistance programs. Regardless of ability to pay, customers were protected with access to necessary water services.
Despite these challenges, we continued to perform in many notable areas. This summer, lead levels throughout Pittsburgh fell into compliance at 5.1 parts per billion (ppb). This is approximately 10ppb below the state and federal lead action level of 15ppb and are the lowest lead levels Pittsburgh has experienced in 20 years.
The lower lead testing results demonstrate the effectiveness of adding orthophosphate to our drinking water treatment process. In addition, we continued to aggressively replace lead service lines, are monitoring our water treatment improvements, and are working towards our goal of replacing all lead service lines by 2026.
This fall we completed two prominent projects in Highland Park. We restored service to the Microfiltration Plant (MFP) and completed the restoration of the parapet wall around the open Highland I Reservoir. With the completion of these projects, we have improved security around the reservoir, are meeting stricter state water quality standards and have a redundant water system that can better distribute water throughout our entire service area.
The completion of two bond transactions provide a sustainable financial outlook for PWSA. With this funding in place, we have the financial resources to implement our $1.2 billion Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Additionally, we secured a $65,220,000 loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). Its low-interest rate of one percent will reduce our costs and in the long-term, generate savings for customers.
Our Customer Assistance Programs, established in 2018, support our most vulnerable customers. When the new rates go into effect on January 14th, so will several enhancements to these programs to simplify the enrollment process and expand accessibility to more customers.
The discount available through the Bill Discount Program will increase from 75% to 100% on fixed-monthly charges and an additional reduction on water usage is available for very low-income customers enrolled in the program. Those customers enrolled in this program and using up to 5,000 gallons of water per month will see a reduction in their total monthly bill.
Additionally, we are expanding eligibility for the Winter Hardship Moratorium to customers at 300% of the federal poverty level and will launch PGH2O Cares, an expanded outreach program to increase enrollment and help customers reduce their bills.
We are proud of these achievements and recognize that this begins a new era at PWSA – one that strikes a balance between the needs of our customers and the improvements we need to make to our water and sewer systems.
As we enter the new year, my priority as Chief Executive Officer is to rebuild trust and re-establish our credibility with customers. Past behavior and mistakes can no longer be an excuse. We have much work to do and the organization is equipped with the resources, talent, and focus to provide our ratepayers with the water services they expect and deserve. This is our resolution to you. On behalf of PWSA, I wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.
2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan
The 2020-2024 includes over $1 billion of capital improvements to be completed over the next five years. These improvements includes upgrading the water treatment plant, drinking water, stormwater, sewer systems, and building green infrastructure.
This comprehensive approach to rebuilding infrastructure means the PWSA will be able to provide the water, wastewater, and stormwater service to meet or exceed customer expectations for the current and future generations.
To view the 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan, please click the following link -
To view the PWSA's current infrastructure projects, please click the following link -
At the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, our goal is to provide our customers with safe, reliable water services. Headwaters, our new organizational performance improvement dashboard, provides a snapshot of our progress. It tracks several metrics that we are measuring across the organization. Take a look to see how we're doing at headwaters.pgh2o.com.