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PWSA Says It's Replaced Half Of Pittsburgh's Lead Service Lines, On Track For 2026 Goal

A lead line is replaced on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Workers replace a lead line on Pittsburgh's South Side.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is halfway to meeting its goal of replacing all of the city’s lead services lines by 2026. A new water-treatment additive called orthophosphate brought lead levels down to their lowest in 20 years, but that hasn’t changed construction plans.

“The fact that we're keeping our foot on the gas pedal, even though we don't have to continue to replace lead lines because that treatment is working, is what's a unique part of our program,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering.

PWSA has replaced more than 8,500 public lead service lines and more than 5,000 private lines since 2017 through the Community Lead Response program, according to Pickering. If crews encounter a private lead line while replacing the public one, they’ll replace both at the same time at no direct charge to customers. More than 90 percent of property owners signed an agreement to allow PWSA to replace their private service line, Pickering said.

PWSA had to rebuild public trust after exceeding lead action levels in 2016. Communication with customers is crucial to these construction projects, Pickering said. PWSA teams try to explain the construction process to each customer, including the crucial step to filter water with free testing kits in the immediate period after crews leave.

“It’s not just the engineering and construction side of things,” Pickering said. “It’s the people side of things.”

Lead pipe replacement takes two forms. Water main replacement involves digging into the street, and removing and reinstalling water access to the entire block. Service line replacement happens on the sidewalk, locating the curb box where the private and public service lines connect. Both water main and service line replacement occurred in the recently completed construction on Baum Boulevard.

“You're not just replacing the service line, but you're also replacing an old water main that's likely to break,” Pickering said. “A lot of these pipes are definitely at the end of their life and some of them are nearing 80 to 90 years old.”

The Line Replacement Reimbursement Program assists residents who want to hire their own plumber to complete work before PWSA crews arrive. The service assesses a customer’s income and could pay up to 100 percent of the service charge. All replacements of private lead service lines since January 2019 qualify for a reimbursement.