PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is pleading guilty for violating the Clean Water Act, accused of dumping sludge into the Allegheny River and lying about it.
Federal prosecutors accuse the PWSA’s Aspinwall Drinking Water Treatment Plant of discharging sludge generated during the drinking water treatment process into the Allegheny from 2010 to 2017.
According to federal prosecutors, this caused plumes of discolored water sometimes several hundred feet long and solids to become visible in the river, over time creating a buildup employees called the “island.” Sometimes when the river was low, officials say birds could be seen walking on the so-called island.
The PWSA is also pleading guilty to falsifying reports about the amount of sludge it was sending the ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility.
In connection with the accusations, 69-year-old Glenn Lijewski was indicted earlier this month. They say Lijewski was “directly responsible” for the authorized discharge of sludge into the river.
“For seven years, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has failed to meet its public trust obligations in complying with the Clean Water Act during the production of drinking water for the citizens of Pittsburgh,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady in a statement.
“Today’s criminal charges shed light on years of mismanagement and malfeasance. The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are committed to protecting you and your families by ensuring that the water you drink is produced safely and that the area’s rivers are not polluted with waste.”
Under a plea bargain agreement, PWSA agreed to establish a $500,000 fund to bring the plant in compliance and further agreed not to raise rates to come up with that half-million.
The PWSA released a statement saying “compliance issues raised in the investigation have been rectified” and there wasn’t any impact on the quality or safety of drinking water. And they say the individual indicted hasn’t worked at PWSA since March 2017.
The PWSA’s statement reads in full:
“Today, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the plea agreement recently reached with PWSA to address violations of the Clean Water Act. The plea covers violations related to discharges from the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant to the Allegheny River, and reporting violations related to residuals we send to ALCOSAN for treatment.
“PWSA has fully cooperated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice on this investigation. Both compliance issues raised in the investigation have been rectified and had no impact on the quality or safety of the drinking water. Moreover, the individual indicted in the investigation has not worked at PWSA since March 2017. The Authority has altered the treatment plant to make these discharges to the river physically impossible.
“‘These historical compliance violations are an unfortunate product of decades of disinvestment in PWSA’s water system and disinvestment in the people who were charged with its operations. Under new leadership, PWSA has the financial resources to appropriately invest in the water treatment plant and is working with the U.S. EPA to ensure that the Authority and its employees comply with all environmental laws,’ said PWSA Chief Executive Officer, William Pickering.”
Paul Martino will have more on this story on KDKA at 6 p.m.