PWSA: Past, Present, and Future

 
Crew for testing the No. 4 Pumping Station in Aspinwall, date unknown

Crew for testing the No. 4 Pumping Station in Aspinwall, date unknown

 
PWSA construction on Smallman Street, 2018

PWSA construction on Smallman Street, 2018

We know PWSA has not always been perfect. After ingenious drinking water and sewer infrastructure was built for our city generations ago, those systems were neglected and fell into disrepair. Leaders failed to invest in our drinking water, stormwater, and sewer infrastructure, adopting a “fix it when it fails” mentality, and intervening only at a point of failure, which is the most expensive way to maintain a system.

PWSA experienced leadership turnover, making it difficult to finalize plans and see them through to completion. Some well-intentioned changes were poorly executed. As a result, we found ourselves out of compliance with regulatory standards. Lead levels in drinking water increased. Inaccuracies in billing went uncorrected, and PWSA did not provide the customer service every resident deserves.

Thankfully, PWSA has turned the page. We are on the road to recovery. We have consistent, committed, proven leadership at the helm, and we have plans for 2030 and beyond. We’re raising the revenue we need to properly maintain our systems and get ahead of the curve with repairs – including removing all lead service lines well before 2030. Our customer service and billing has improved, and we’re implementing state-of-the-art systems to make sure PWSA not only complies with, but exceeds regulatory standards.

 
 
The Water Treatment Plan in Aspinwall, 2018

The Water Treatment Plan in Aspinwall, 2018

Lanpher Reservoir Construction, 1914

Lanpher Reservoir Construction, 1914


Strong Financial Footing

As a municipal authority, PWSA is able to obtain a very low interest rate on debt. As a public water system, we have access to municipal bond markets that investor-owned systems cannot access, and we have a strong track record of successfully competing for state and federal financing programs.

Much like the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, lenders assess us favorably. Because of that strong financial position, we can continue to borrow, at the lowest available interest rates, securing investment in our Capital Improvement Plan.

On the Path with PUC

Through a change in state law, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) began overseeing on April 1, 2018. The PUC now oversees customer service, operations, performance, and ratemaking. This transition offers PWSA customers new protections and opportunities. We believe PUC oversight only strengthens Pittsburgh’s water future.

PUC supervision helps protect consumers, demands transparency and accountability, and keeps PWSA on the same performance expectations as other large utilities in the state. With PUC oversight, our customers can have peace of mind that we are monitored to use your rate money wisely. At PWSA, we invest revenues generated from rates in critical infrastructure upgrades, not exorbitant management salaries, multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns, or making a profit for shareholders or investors. As a publicly-owned utility, Pittsburghers can rest assured that we take every dollar and invest it back into their drinking water, stormwater, and sewer systems.

The Road Ahead

PWSA is now looking toward the future. Our key investment areas include: lead line replacement, infrastructure repairs and replacement, and coordination with other utilities and City departments and neighboring municipalities for cost savings and smart planning.

We are ahead of our schedule for lead line replacements and on track to have all lead service lines removed within the city within seven years. We are also beginning to use Orthophosphate, a common, food-grade additive that will help protect residents from lead in pipes.

No one wants their road paved three times in a year, so we are committed to working closely with the City and other utilities to “dig once” for repairs and paving. We are always looking for ways to be more efficient, including increased coordination with City agencies to ensure water is considered when planning for new transportation and development projects. We’re also exploring ways to prepare for the future, such as installing conduits for fiber optic and other cables alongside our water infrastructure when we open a street to make repairs. Space in these conduits could be rented to third parties in the telecom industry and elsewhere, generating revenue for the public and enhancing connectivity.

We are committed to rebuilding our systems in a way that is not only functional, but environmentally sustainable. This starts with restoring our existing gravity-based systems, rather than building energy intensive pump-based systems. We’re also pursuing renewable sources for the energy that our system does use, including renewable energy technologies like solar panels on our facilities and infrastructure. Our green-first approach to stormwater treats runoff using natural, passive methods that improve water quality. And we’re installing networked meters that will allow customers to monitor water usage in real time, providing information they need for water conservation.

The new leadership at PWSA is committed to restoring the glory of Pittsburgh’s water system. We will build and maintain a water infrastructure system that we can all count on, now and in the future. PWSA will be accountable and transparent, making sure all Pittsburghers get a voice in their water future through 2030 and beyond.

We are environmental stewards, ensuring we put clean water back into our rivers for ourselves and our neighbors downstream. We are financial stewards, making sure we spend wisely. We are your neighbors, we are accessible, we are your public servants -- here to deliver for you.

 
 
Lanpher Reservoir Construction, 2018

Lanpher Reservoir Construction, 2018