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Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website:

PWSA Can’t Spend Money Replacing A Private Water Line, But A New Bill Would Change That

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
PWSA dug up Steve Hayashi's and Emily Drill's sidewalk in Squirrel HIll to see if their private service line is made of lead. It is, and they'll have to pay to replace it out of pocket.

Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, on Wednesday announced plans to introduce three bills that would authorize the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to replace private water and sewer lines.

The PWSA has said the state’s Municipal Authorities Act of 1945 prohibits it from spending public money on private property, so it cannot replace homeowners’ portions of lead service lines.

Fontana said his staff is currently working on a bill that would allow municipalities and public water authorities to use state and local money to replace both water lines and sewer lines.

He introduced a version of the sewer line bill in 2014. It was approved in the House, but died in the Senate. Fontana said he anticipates that his colleagues will recognize the importance of such legislation this time around.

“I don’t know how they can’t be convinced that there’s a need or an urgency for the citizens,” Fontana said. “There’s no question.”

A third bill would allow local governments and authorities like PWSA to use money from the state’s PENNVEST fund, which is meant to finance infrastructure projects, to create grant or loan programs for private citizens to repair or replace water and sewer lines on their property.

In a statement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto applauded Fontana for his efforts.

“These changes in state law will create valuable tools to assist PWSA's efforts to eliminate public and private lead service lines from Pittsburgh's water system and continue to address our crumbling sewer infrastructure,” Peduto said.

Fontana said SB 334, which addresses the sewer lateral issue, was introduced last month and is currently in the environmental resources and energy committee. He said he expects to introduce the other two bills next week.

PWSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.