As I approach one month as Executive Director, I remain humbled by this opportunity. I’ve spent the past few weeks connecting with PWSA leadership to gain a better understanding of their priority projects and to identify areas for improvement. These conversations have reinforced my belief that we have an excellent complement of senior leaders who are eager and prepared to take PWSA to the next level and deliver for our customers.
Safety is a central focus for me as an ED of PWSA. That will manifest itself in several ways.
First, compliance with regulations, and meeting or exceeding standards. When the organization struggled in the past, it was because it moved away from this being its North Star. Poor decisions were made not because of ill intentions, but due to a lack of resources. My priority is that PWSA will always start with safety and public health, and that means going beyond compliance standards. We have a very deep bench in the organization now to make sure our operational standards are excellent, and I plan on continuing to build out the team to help on this end.
Second, we have to rebuild trust with our customers where it has suffered. We want them to trust that their drinking water is safe, that their account is managed professionally, and that we are a good community partner.
Lead levels are dramatically lower than they were a few years ago because we took a scientific approach to fixing problems -- and it is working as we expected. That is great news. We have to get the word out to customers about what’s been done, and what we’re going to continue to do to keep them safe.
On June 26, the PWSA board approved another extension of the suspension on water shutoffs during this COVID crisis. It’s the right thing to do. We know you cannot have good sanitation and health standards without water, and we want our customers to know we are in this together.
I also want to acknowledge that at PWSA, like so many institutions, we have not historically been as diverse as the customers we serve. Water is for everyone. It is essential to everyone in Pittsburgh, and I want to prioritize diversity in hiring and applying more equitable practices to our work. Equitable in how rates and customer assistance are applied, equitable in hiring practices, and where our projects happen, and who they help.
To be a good community partner to every customer, we will have to do a better job at serving and working with Black communities and communities where there has been historic underinvestment. While I care deeply about this issue, I am no expert, so I welcome thoughts and ideas from our staff, stakeholders, and customers about how we can work together to improve.
It is an honor to lead your PWSA. Despite these challenging times, we have a unique opportunity to address longstanding challenges and emerge with not only a better and more reliable water system, but a stronger and more equitable Pittsburgh. I look forward to you joining me in this essential work ahead.
“Water is for everyone. It is essential to everyone in Pittsburgh and I want to prioritize diversity in hiring and applying more equitable practices to our work.” - PWSA Executive Director, Will Pickering