By: John Shumway

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When you turn on your faucet do you think about the quality of the water that is flowing into your glass?

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Not all taps are equal and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is taking steps to correct the water equity issues.

“In the past, sometimes sort of the squeakiest wheel gets the grease, and in prioritizing projects when to begin, you know that work may have gone to the communities that were really clamoring for that investment, where lower-income communities for very legitimate reasons aren’t necessarily focused on issues related to PWSA,”
PWSA CEO Will Pickering says.

The push is now on to change that.

Pickering says the overall process of eliminating the lead pipe in the PWSA system.

“Is about half of what we estimated we had when we started in 2016. And we’re going to continue to chip away at it over the next five years or so,” he said.

Part of the historical issue has been homeowner costs.

While PWSA will replace the lead line in the street, the replacement of the lead connecting line to the home is on the homeowner.

“Some of it depends on the property characteristics, but it could be upwards of $10,000,” Pickering explained.

It is a substantial reason that lower-income neighborhoods have not been clamoring for replacements.

But over the past six months, a major change has come to help low-income customers.

Pickering says working on a sliding scale based on income, “if a customer is interested in replacing their lead line, we have a host of different offerings for them to reduce or maybe get it 100%, paid for by PWSA. And we can have our contractors do that work.”

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So PWSA is actively looking to improve water equity everywhere.

“One of the things PWSA has done is looked at income data, and use that to prioritize where we’re replacing our lead lines,” he said.

That means a lot of construction work is coming to all neighborhoods.

“We want to make every effort to attract our customers to apply for jobs either with the contractors that we use or jobs at PWSA,” Pickering said. “We recognize, you know, there are they’re paying their bills and they should have every opportunity to benefit from the local economy that really we’re going to be helping to boost through these investments.”

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But the fact is replacing all those miles of lead pipes is going to take years so in the interim Pickering says they are making treatment changes in the water purification system.

“What you want to do is to treat the water at the treatment plant so that when that water comes in contact with the lead pipe that none of that lead is flaking off or dissolving into the water that’s being delivered to homes,” he said.

Pickering says in every aspect of this massive upgrade, Water Equity, is the key.

“We want to weigh everyone’s issues appropriately to make sure we’re investing equitably across our system and our customers.”

Meanwhile on the sewer side of the PWSA neighborhood equity is also a priority.

Pickering says there is concern that in some low-income neighborhoods residents aren’t reporting incidents of sewers backing up into basement drains.

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Pickering says the PWSA needs to know when those issues come up so they can make corrections as well.