City Investigations Office To Probe PWSA Flush And Boil Order

Feb 8, 2017

The Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations has begun examining the cause of last week’s flush and boil order for more than 100,000 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers.

OMI will conduct interviews with PWSA employees to determine whether the problem stemmed from faulty infrastructure, improper chlorine meters or operator error.

“We don’t want to point fingers, necessarily, at the good people at the PWSA,” said Tim McNulty, spokesperson for Mayor Bill Peduto. “But this affected more than 100,000 people and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The city and the PWSA board are also inviting Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to audit the authority.

Additionally, the mayor is calling for an audit of lead test requests submitted to PWSA.

Beth Shaaban is a public health doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and an organizer with the group Pittsburgh Lead Action, which is seeking to find solutions to the city’s lead issue.

“We’d like to see the process be very transparent so that we can help monitor what’s going on, so that we as citizens who are concerned about … our city’s infrastructure and our own health, that we can feel assured,” she said.

McNulty said the city hadn’t determined whether the results of the investigation will be made public, but he said it is likely the city will “release findings in some manner.”

Last month, Peduto implied that PWSA’s days could be numbered, in response to Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith’s earlier statement that it might be prudent to disband the authority and move its services to a city department.

“That's one option,” Peduto said. “The other option is partnering with other organizations in separating out the water side from the sewer side and being able to deal with our combined sewer overflow independently of water. We as a government can't sell water we're not permitted to do so, but if we were to partner with a private company we could sell water and use the revenue to fix the system.”

The city announced last week that it is seeking outside consultation for the oversight and potential restructuring of the authority.

“What has been going wrong at the PWSA?” McNulty said. “Sort of the systematic failures it’s had from lead testing to the flush and boil advisory to billing issues and so on. Big changes have to be made there, but we don’t know what they are yet.”