PWSA Pledges To Keep Authority Public

Jul 1, 2019

The board of directors of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority unanimously approved a pledge to bar privatization at its regular monthly meeting Friday.

“We are guaranteeing permanent public ownership of the water facility in Pittsburgh,” said Paul Leger, who chairs the board. “This will not be owned by a private, profit-making entity.”

The vote featured a special gavel made just for the occasion. It reads, "Pittsburgh Water: Owned By and For The People." 

However, PWSA officials can still contract with private companies for services. They do that a lot because it’s efficient, said Leger.

“The mistake we made with Veolia was we let them run the whole show, including the executive director. We had no watchdog on the system,” he said. “We will always have our own staff at the top … and we will never do anything like what we did with Veolia again.”

PWSA hired Veolia North America-Northeast LLC in 2012 to run daily operations, deal with ineffective billing systems and manage mounting debt. During that time, lead levels climbed and billing problems only seemed to get worse. Eventually, PWSA filed suit against the international company and reached a settlement in 2018 through arbitration: Veolia paid the agency $5 million.

The pledge was created by non-profit advocacy group Our Water, Our Rivers Campaign; it states the public should reap the benefit of the billions of dollars PWSA and ALCOSAN will invest to upgrade the region’s water and sewer infrastructure. The group has worked with ratepayers for years to ensure a public authority, organizer Aly Shaw said in a press release.

“We are gratified to see the Mayor and now the PWSA Board listen to those demands,” she said. “And commit to protecting our drinking water by ensuring it remains owned and operated by the people of Pittsburgh."

Mayor Bill Peduto signed the same pledge in March.

Also at the meeting, board members approved a new version of the cooperation agreement between PWSA and the city. PWSA’s board voted to dissolve the existing agreement at its February meeting in order to negotiate a new one. The document was introduced to City Council in June, and a post-agenda and public hearing are scheduled for Tuesday, July 9.