– Legislation to place the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission (PUC) became law today, said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny).
Over the last year, local and national newspapers have recounted many service issues facing PWSA. They include multi-million dollar debt and uncollectible accounts, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks, and thousands of lead service lines, many of which have not been identified or located. Most recently, they have been cited with non-compliance by the Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Water Act violations. These issues call into serious question the sustainability of PWSA and the health and safety of those served by the system.
“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been grossly mismanaged,” said Turzai. “The state had to step in. Working in a bipartisan fashion with my good friend, Rep. Harry Readshaw, we knew something needed to be done. We developed a solution that will provide more oversight, ensure fiscal responsibility and demand best practices. The authority needs to be held to the same standards as the private sector.”
“This legislation is about consumer protection and the health and safety of those served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority,” said Readshaw. “This is really a commonsense approach that will move the system in a positive direction.”
A consultant’s report issued in August by Infrastructure Management Group called the PWSA “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure.” The report noted a dysfunctional culture at the authority and exposed the fact that about 20 percent of PWSA’s 250 employees are out of work on short-term disability.
In addition, a recent performance audit released by the state auditor general’s office highlighted several of the deficiencies with PWSA’s operation. They include:
• Under a 1995 agreement with the city, PWSA is required to provide 600 million gallons of free water each year. However, PWSA does not track how much water the city uses annually because many city-owned properties are not metered.
• Between 2012 and 2016, PWSA’s financial position went from a positive balance of $7.7 million to a negative balance of $15.7 million.
• As of Dec. 31, 2016, PWSA had a debt load of $842.5 million, which has grown by $43.2 million since Dec. 31, 2012.
• PWSA is not able to bill for approximately 50 percent of clean water its system produces due to leaky pipes and unbilled accounts.
• Since 2014, four individuals have served as executive director.
• Billing irregularities frequently occur, including a complete lack of billing for thousands of customers for a period of several months arising from changes in PWSA’s billing system and the installation of new meters.
PUC oversight is crucial to correcting the authority’s long-standing difficulties. The PUC has the power to demand sound financial practices, systemic upgrades to infrastructure and reliable service delivery to customers.
House Bill 1490
, which was sponsored by Turzai and Readshaw, was signed into law today as Act 65 of 2017
. The law will go into effect on April 1, 2018, in order to provide enough time for the authority and the PUC to implement changes. PWSA will be required to provide service that complies with applicable provisions of Title 66 and PUC regulations. While the authority will not become a “public utility,” it will be subject to the same service requirements as a public utility.
Representative Mike Turzai
Speaker of the House
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Stephen Miskin Smiskin@pahousegop.com
717.772.9943 (office), 717.756.3936 (cell)