PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is responding to renewed scrutiny after two recent high profile boil water advisories and a scathing report from a consulting firm.
From bad management and understaffing, to an aging and failing infrastructure with no preventative maintenance, it’s no wonder four audits over the last year and a half have all pointed out the same problems.
Robert Weimar, who began his yearlong appointment as the interim executive director in July, says the PWSA has been aware of these problems for at least 10 years, and in some cases, 30 years.
“This is not unusual in larger, older cities,” he said. “The problem is that all of this infrastructure is out of sight and out of mind. It’s not like a road where people see on a daily basis potholes or whatever.”
The implications for the city are scary, from the most recent boil advisory to the revelation that half of the product the PWSA treats is being wasted. Not to mention the health concerns, as Pittsburgh is the second largest water system in the country distributing water with elevated lead levels.
So what’s the answer? More patches and band-aids? A panel recommended hiring an outside management company. Weimar says some outsourcing makes sense.
“We need to selectively move elements of the organization to third parties,” Weimar said, “and the one we are looking at right now is the billing and collections and customer service area.”
It will be decades before this multi-billion dollar problem is fixed and ratepayers will feel it.
“I’d say that the water bills we are looking at are probably going to rival those of, at some point in the not too distant future, of those of American Water on the South Side,” Weimar said. “We are frankly half of their cost.”
For now, Weimar says they are doing what they can.
A $9 million project to replace the torn Lanpher reservoir cover that caused the most recent boil advisory has already begun and will be completed in nine months.
“I think that [the public] can feel confident that we are doing everything we can within the limits of our funding to move forward,” Weimar said.