While federal and state environmental regulators are in town this week examining the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s treatment processes, a city-hired consultant is working on its final recommendations to completely restructure the agency.
IMG, Inc. has until Nov. 8 to submit its suggestions.
“We're not going to be able to solve this problem by pushing it down the road,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “You're not going to be able to solve this problem by taking a shortcut or by trying to do it on the cheap. We've been down that path so many times that we've basically destroyed this organization.”
In its initial findings released three weeks ago, IMG characterized PWSA as “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure.”
According to Peduto, over the next several weeks the consultant will continue to analyze data already in hand and gather additional information.
“Most of the examples that IMG is working is a public-private partnership which keeps the asset public which means that we don't privatize the asset. We don't sell it to the highest bidder,” Peduto said.
The mayor said it has to be done with a long-term vision and a long-term investment. He admits that investment won’t be popular with ratepayers.
“A lot of people say ‘I've already paid my bills.' But remember we know that the water bills we've been paying if you're part of PWSA system have been way, way, way undervalued and done so because we've had boards that wouldn't raise rates because of political reasons,” Peduto said.
According to IMG, those water rates are 40 percent lower than customers of nearby Penn American Water, and therefore, said Peduto, PWSA didn’t have the revenues to invest “so now the system’s at the end of its life.”
The problem is solvable, he said, but it will take time.
“To anybody who's saying this should be done next year, to anybody that's saying it can be done cheap, all of those approaches have been talked about for 30 years, and they've gotten us to this point. It's time to rip the Band-Aid off and address it. And yes it's going to cost us money, and yes it's going to take time," he said.
He added that the agency's rehabilitation is estimated to take 12 years.