Audit urges changes to Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

November 1, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A state audit is urging changes to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, saying years of mismanagement and lack of leadership have led to financial problems and deteriorating infrastructure.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says the 82,000 city customers are “all too familiar” with the problems, which he said at times have endangered public health.

The audit of operations from January 2014 through the end of June detailed more than 3,500 pipe breaks since the beginning of that period, about 2.5 breaks per day, and DePasquale said the system gets no money for about half of the clean water it produces due, in part, “to leaky pipes that cannot be located.”

Although water storage facilities and other equipment need replacement, the authority has been investing just 15 percent of what is needed in upgrades and repairs, he said.

“This lack of capital improvement investment contributes to the deteriorating infrastructure that continues to fail routinely, forcing whole neighborhoods to boil their water,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale also cited a 40-year agreement under which the authority provides the city with as much as 600 million gallons (2 billion liters) of free water worth millions of dollars each year. The authority doesn’t even know how much water the city uses because there is no complete list of city-owned properties receiving it and only 10 percent of city-owned properties have water meters, he said.

The city leases its water and sewer system to the quasi-governmental authority. The authority’s seven-member board is appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.

In a statement, board chairwoman Debbie Lestitian called the audit “thorough and thoughtful.”

“The board will consider and act on many of these recommendations as we guide PWSA toward becoming the utility Pittsburgh expects and deserves,” she said.

Interim Executive Director Robert A. Weimar said the audit “sheds light on the historical and structural conditions that have placed PWSA in a difficult position today.” He said officials were working “to stabilize infrastructure, invest in needed capital improvements, and adding to our leadership team who is committed to advancing the organization.”

Mayor Bill Peduto said the audit confirmed many things that have long concerned him about the authority’s operations, debt and infrastructure, adding that “deep and fundamental changes are necessary.” The Democrat’s administration has sparred previously with the authority and a firm that had a management contract with the authority from mid-2012 through 2015.

Peduto said his administration would consider the recommended changes on city funding and free water the city receives from the authority “especially if such funds are put back into the authority’s infrastructure needs.”

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