The First Step In Restructuring PWSA Could Be Presented To City Council Next Week

Mar 15, 2018

A mayoral panel appointed to oversee the restructuring of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has drafted a new contract to govern PWSA. 

The cooperation agreement intends to re-frame the relationship between the city (which owns the infrastructure of the drinking water and sewer systems) and the authority (which operates and maintains them).

The central change the mayoral panel wanted to cement in the new contract concerns how PWSA is run, said panel member Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis.

“So that the [Board of Directors is] free from the political influence that could potentially be present or has been present in years past,” she said.

In the wake of elevated lead levels, boil water advisories and billing issues, federal, state and local officials have scrutinized PWSA over the last year. In presentations and audits, many have blamed political influence for the chronic mismanagement of and disinvestment in the authority.

Currently, the mayor appoints PWSA’s board members, as stipulated in the city’s Home Rule Charter. After a months-long review process—assisted by an outside consultant—the mayoral panel recommended that PWSA be insulated from that political influence. In a document released in December, the panel’s members suggested that an independent Board of Nominators be created, which would then select a Board of Directors.

Though the initial Board of Nominators would be selected by the mayor, it would then be self-perpetuating, choosing its own members. 

Naccarati-Chapkis said the panel is thinking long-term, considering what measures are needed to ensure effective oversight.

“We know that PWSA has made great strides over the last year. They have a solid plan in place with excellent leadership,” she said. “Now is the time to summon the political will to make the long overdue changes in the way PWSA is governed and operated.”

The draft contract, created by the panel and its lawyer, was sent to PWSA on Thursday and executive leadership is reviewing the document, spokesperson Will Pickering wrote in an email.

“The Authority looks forward to working with the Mayor, the Blue Ribbon Panel, and City Council to become the water, sewer, and stormwater utility Pittsburgh expects and deserves," he said. 

A city spokesperson said the mayor’s office may submit a resolution to consider the contract to City Council on Friday, to be introduced at the body’s regular meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor Bill Peduto said council will want to hold a public hearing prior to voting on the contract.

“The operations of PWSA over the course of 40 years has failed on every level,” he said. “So we have to change all the way from the bottom, all the way up, [to] the way that we operate and manage our water structure.”

Both City Council and PWSA’s Board of Directors will have to approve a new contract.

The change is coming just as the Pennsylvania Utility Commission begins its oversight of PWSA next month. While the commission will govern things such as rate increases and customer service, Naccarati-Chapkis said the city and the authority retain the independence to agree on a new contract to govern their relationship.