Pittsburgh City Councilwoman calling for state investigation into city’s water supplier

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman calling for state investigation into city’s water supplier

Author: Alanna Koll/Wednesday, February 1, 2017/Categories: Pittsburgh

In light of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s flush and boil water advisory issued Tuesday for about 100,000 of its customers due to a contamination precaution, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith (District 2) is calling on the state Attorney General and Auditor General to conduct an independent investigation into the city’s water supplier. 

“I am so sick of PWSA and all of the issues with PWSA,” said the Councilwoman following a council meeting Wednesday. “Since I’ve been here we’ve had issues with billing, issues with communication, lead in the water, and now this. We need an investigation into PWSA and we need to make some very strong steps moving forward.”

A temporary advisory was issued by the Authority Tuesday evening after tests taken at one its drinking water filtration plants showed levels of chlorine lower than state standards for treated drinking water, according to an order from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to PWSA. 

“PWSA failed to achieve a combined total effect of of disinfection processes utilized in a filtration plant to achieve at least 90 percent activation of Giardia cysts and a 99.9 percent inactivation of viruses,” the DEP order said.

As Councilwoman Kail-Smith stated, the Authority has come under fire the past couple of years for the improper billing of its customers, poor customer service, failure to implement a new water meter reading system, mishandling the change in chemicals related to water corrosion control, and elevated levels of lead in some customers drinking water.

She hopes an independent state review of the water supplier will bring to light these issues and how best to address them. 

“I hope that we will gather information that we can move forward and make decisions [regarding] PWSA and what the future is of PWSA,” said the Councilwoman. “There’s a lot of good people working there that are stuck in the middle of all this, there’s obviously all of our residents stuck in the middle of this so we need some solutions and real responses and factual information- not a lot of PR information that we’ve been receiving.” 

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak (District 4) agreed that an investigation needs to take place, specifically as it relates to creating an emergency management plan.

“The point of PWSA is to prevent emergencies, to prevent disease, to prevent contamination of water, to prevent long term effects of lead in the water but what I’ve been able to discern is that there is no emergency management plan for these issues,” she said. “I do think that it is time for a public investigation into the myriad of problems.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross (District 7), council’s PWSA board representative, said this is an all hands on deck situation and thinks the city should be pleading its case to more entities. 

“We need to call on the county, state and federal health [departments] to make sure that the water is clean and safe,” she said. “It’s not about being defensive or trying to do everything yourself when you don’t have the resources that you need to get the job done. You ask for help.” 

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, however, said his office does not have the authority to audit PWSA unless they were “invited” to do so by the Mayor or City Council through some sort of legislation. 

“I would need to make sure that the Authority is fully compliant with the audit and with that being said, I [would] take this very seriously," he told The PLS Reporter Wednesday afternoon.

Though such a task of auditing municipal authorities is not within his job description, he strongly believes it should be.

“I have been shouting from the hilltops for four years that the Auditor General should have the authority to audit municipal authorities,” said DePasqule. “It is an element of state government that does not have independent oversight and I think that’s wrong and it needs to change.” 

He noted that his office has received no formal invitation from the City of Pittsburgh requesting an audit of PWSA at this time. 

Due to the flush and boil water advisory issued by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, 22 Pittsburgh schools and two early childhood centers were closed on Wednesday. Eleven Pittsburgh Public Safety facilities will serve as water distribution centers and will be equipped with 2,500 gallon water buffalo tanks for residents to receive water.