Peduto Says He Welcomes State Oversight If It Helps Fix Pittsburgh's Lead Problem

Jun 7, 2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he's pursuing a new consent decree that would allow the state to take control over the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, including all pending lead line replacements. 

"It would be like an Act 47 for PWSA," he said, citing the restrictive debt restructuring agreement city officials signed with the state in 2003. "And that oversight would come from the [Department of Environmental Protection]."

The mayor said Monday his office has been considering the idea for "the past few months." 

PWSA said Friday it's worked with the state the last several weeks to reach a "definitive consent order and agreement" that will lay out how PWSA moves forward with lead elimination.

Pittsburgh is already beholden to the national Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires the replacement of 7 percent of the city's 20,000 residential service lines annually. That process is enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and overseen by the state DEP, Peduto said.

The mission stalled last week.

PWSA temporarily suspended its partial line replacement program one month after it officially began in May. Four of eight customers who asked for testing after they received replacements reported growing lead levels in their drinking water, all reportedly beyond the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion.

PWSA said the suspension was issued out of “an abundance of caution.”

At the time the program was suspended, PWSA had a long way to go to meet its 7 percent goal.

Of the approximately 1,500 lead pipe replacements required, PWSA had replaced lines at 81 locations, 49 of which also had lead on the private side of the service line.

The authority has maintained it cannot replace the private side of the water service line at the same time it replaces the public side, citing the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945. Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross and Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42) each expressed skepticism that the authorities act prohibits additional private line replacement.

Peduto said attorneys at Clark Hill Thorp Reed, which still serve as legal counsel for PWSA, recently told city officials they need a Constitutional amendment to allow cities of the second class to use public money to replace lines on private property.

"Maybe through this consent decree, we'll be able to do it," Peduto said.

State legislators had a similar idea. The House Consumer Affairs Committee advanced a bill on Monday that would put PWSA under the watch of Pennsylvania's Public Utilities Commission. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Peduto wasn't consulted on the legislation.

If the state DEP takes over, the mayor said PWSA would suspend operations and accept whatever fine is levied through the EPA.

A consent decree would need to be approved at least through PWSA's seven-member board. City Council cemented Peduto's appointment of three new members last month. Councilwoman Gross is also a board member.

90.5 WESA reporter Kevin Gavin contributed to this report.