Pittsburgh’s water authority moves a step closer to control by Harrisburg

A final House vote could come as soon as Thursday; a similar measure will be introduced in the Senate.

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated, 5:15 p.m.

With no discussion, a Pa. House committee voted to approve a bill that would put Pittsburgh’s troubled water and sewer authority under state control.

The House Consumer Affairs Committee voted unanimously Monday to report bill 1490 as amended. The legislation would put the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority under Public Utility Commission oversight.

The bill — introduced by two Allegheny County lawmakers, Republican Mike Turzai and Democrat Harry Readshaw — is expected to get a vote on the House floor this week. A final vote could come as soon as Thursday.

“Over the last year, local and national newspapers have recounted the many service issues facing PWSA from multi-million dollar debt and uncollectibles, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks and non-compliance with federal water quality mandates,” Readshaw and Turzai wrote in a co-sponsorship memo. “These issues call into serious question the sustainability of PWSA and the health and safety of those served by the system. The customers of PWSA need to know that their water is safe and that they are properly billed for their usage.”

The bill’s bipartisan support among county lawmakers includes Democrats Dom Costa, Paul Costa, Dan Deasy, William Kortz and Anita Astorino Kulik and Republicans Hal English, Eli Evankovich, Mark Mustio, Jason Ortitay and John Maher.

State Sen. Jay Costa of Allegheny County plans to introduce similar legislation in the other chamber.

J.J. Abbott, a spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, said via email, “The Governor is committed to looking at all options to help local governments solve generational problems with their water systems and aging infrastructure.”

“The Administration is currently evaluating the proposal and will talk with the General Assembly and local leaders on this new legislation,” Abbott continued.

PWSA has faced a number of issues over the past several years, from billing issues to higher-than-allowable levels of lead in drinking water. Most recently, the authority announced it was suspending a lead service line replacement program after a handful of tests showed elevated levels of lead after partial replacement.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement his administration isn’t “opposed to additional state cooperation to improve our water and sewer authority for residents of our city.” But he added that “the legislation would need to assure residents of Pittsburgh that the water system remains a public asset, and that PUC oversight would not be used as a mechanism to force privatization.”

Turzai has previously stated he supports the idea of selling PWSA through public auction. In addition to Peduto, Pittsburgh City Council member Deb Gross, Sierra Club Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh United’s Our Water Campaign oppose privatizing PWSA.