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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For decades, the ratepayers of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) have been providing free water to city-owned facilities, like the Zoo, Phipps Conservancy, all the city pools and the City-County Building.

“Our agreement has us providing a certain amount of water — 600 million gallons — by contract for no cost,” Robert Weimar, executive director of the PWSA, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

Weimer said this began when the PWSA was a city department and originally the free water was in exchange for free rent from the city.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says last year alone, the water was valued at $6.8 million.

“It’s tens of millions of dollars over the lifetime of the report that we reviewed,” he added.

Complicating the problem is that at least half the city-owned properties do not have water meters.

“We have about 200 facilities that have meters and about an equal number that don’t,” said Weimar.

Weimar says the PWSA is starting to install meters in city properties, but it’s not a fast process.

“I think it’s probably going to take us three years to complete the meters, and here’s why,” he said. “In many of these buildings, metering cannot be readily installed. And, in addition, under the county laws, the county health code, we have to install a back flow preventer and expansion tank and valves.”

In other words, it’s not cheap or quick.

DePasquale says this should have begun years ago.

“They should have been starting this years ago. It is simply unacceptable that it has taken this long,” he said.

Even once water meters are installed, it’s not a certainty that the city will allow the PWSA to charge it for water.

“We’re in the process of negotiating with the city a new cooperation agreement,” Weimar said, “and that cooperation agreement will establish the basis under which we will begin charging the city.”