Mayor Bill Peduto met Wednesday with the panel he selected to evaluate how to address problems at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Both parties agree that the most important issue to tackle is governance.
That means hiring a lawyer, said the panel’s chair, Jared Cohen.
“To work with us to figure out what kinds of contractual provisions and other legal amendments have to be made in order to make those governance changes,” he said. “It's fairly technical legal work.”
Separating PWSA from political influence was the panel’s central recommendation. To do that, the mayor would no longer appoint the authority’s board members. Instead, an outside board—a board of nominators—would select them. But that might violate the home rule charter, which states the mayor appoints all members of authorities. It’s just one of the questions they have to address, Cohen said.
“I don't think people appreciate how much PWSA has improved over the last several months. But at the same time those of us who've looked closely at PWSA are convinced that these changes are fragile,” he said. “And we cannot expect that they'll be permanent or that we'll see continued improvement and progress unless these governance changes are made.”
Both panel members and Peduto said it’s possible another institution could operate the city’s drinking water system.
The existing authority might be the best way to deliver safe, clean water, said Peduto.
“But at the same time there is an entire world of engineering out there in cities and countries all over this earth that are adopting new models of water delivery, water operations and water management.”
He said the decision is not his to make, but that he hopes the mayoral panel directing the process will examine all possible options. Significant financial investment is needed whether the goal is to merely repair or to modernize the system, but that’s further down the road, said Peduto.
“Everything has its own time, so the first part of this is the governance,” he said. “Then putting into place the way that we will have a new board and dealing with the legacy issues...and then putting together the vision of where do we want to be by 2025.”
A public forum to discuss the panel’s recommendations and to hear from residents will be held before the end of January.