Withstanding a difficult 2017, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) now has its sights set on improvements to its lead water lines in the near future.
After several high-profile incidents last year, including the issuance of a boil water advisory prompted by bird waste and scrutiny from federal regulators, PWSA is now operating under a state consent order and the scrutiny that comes with it.
“The consent order, signed by the … [PWSA] in mid-November, outlines a schedule for the authority to replace lead lines in the city,” according to Public Source. “Within the order, the state Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] also levied a $2.4 million fine for numerous violations; the authority paid $600,000 of the bill in December.”
While fines and regulatory scrutiny are difficult to spin into positives, the consent order has laid out a clear path for Pittsburgh to replace its lead service lines and tackle at least one of its most pressing challenges.
“Before [the consent order], replacing lead lines was a tricky political issue for PWSA,” per Public Source. “At first, it replaced lead lines that it owned but not ones that connected to homes and businesses because, it argued, those lines were privately owned and state law prohibited PWSA replacing them… Now, with the DEP outlining that PWSA has to replace 1,341 lines by June 2018, the authority can start the work at a more aggressive pace.”
According to a PWSA’s estimate, about 25 percent of the city’s water lines are made of lead. By 2022, PWSA is expected to inspect all of its 81,000 water lines and it is currently working on a database that identifies where the lead lines are.
“The DEP gave a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, for the water authority to identify where all of the residential lead lines in the city are,” Public Source reported. “PWSA has two more years to complete the list of every lead line in the city.”
In the meantime, the authority is hoping to get DEP approval to leverage chemicals such as orthophosphates that can help control corrosion and keep lead out of Pittsburgh’s drinking water.
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Image credit: “Pittsburgh, PA.,” Scott of SWPA, 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/