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DEP Gives PWSA New Deadlines On Major Infrastructure Changes

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority was ordered to speed up its work on major infrastructure projects Wednesday when the state’s Department of Environmental Protection issued an administrative order aimed at ensuring consistent water volume and water pressure in the system.

DEP mandated improvements to a pump station and two reservoirs, which should keep PWSA’s system from getting into a low pressure situation, said Ron Schwartz, acting regional director for DEP’s southwest office.

“Contaminants could leak into the piping system,” he said. “The purpose is to prevent that.”

Schwartz clarified that the order is not about water quality, but volume and pressure. Protecting the quantity of water also protects its quality, he said.

“There’s nothing different that residents need to do in terms of how they use the water and drink the water, that type of thing,” he said.

Under the administrative order, PWSA is required to fast-track improvements to the Highland 1 Reservoir and Membrane Filtration Plant, which remains out of service; the Lanpher Reservoir, where problems with the cover prompted a flush-and-boil advisory; and the Bruecken Pump Station, which needs a backup pump and backup power to improve reliability.

PWSA’s Interim Executive Director Bob Weimar said the projects were already in the works, but DEP’s order allows the authority to cut through red tape in order to meet the new deadlines.

“We can declare these as emergency-related projects so that we can expedite the schedule of implementation,” he said.

Weimar estimates that the three main projects identified by DEP and PWSA will cost roughly $20 million. Work must be completed by spring 2018, specified as 150 days after DEP approves PWSA’s applications for modified permits. Funds for the project should be available after a vote by the PWSA board in the next month or so, said Weimar.

In addition to the three main projects, the administrative order requires PWSA to send an inventory of all “critical low pressure points” to DEP on or before Nov. 30, and by the same date to provide a detailed schedule for PWSA’s Capital Improvement Projects from the 2017 to 2021 Capital Improvement Program.

In a release issued by PWSA, Mayor Bill Peduto said the city welcomes DEP's order, "which continues our work with the EPA and DEP to fully and transparently tackle the challenges facing our water system and make the long-term investments the system has needed for years. Working together, we're doing all we can to make sure our residents are getting the clean and safe water they deserve." 

Both Schwartz and Weimar said their two agencies have been working in cooperation to ensure quality water for Pittsburgh residents.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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