2020 was a year, unlike any other. Punctuated by the pandemic, it forced us to quickly adapt to a new reality while delivering safe and reliable water services. Our top priority was the health and safety of our workforce and our customers.
With these realities in mind, our board voted unanimously to suspend water shutoffs and we waived many of the requirements to enroll in customer assistance programs. Regardless of ability to pay, customers were protected with access to necessary water services.
Despite these challenges, we continued to perform in many notable areas. This summer, lead levels throughout Pittsburgh fell into compliance at 5.1 parts per billion (ppb). This is approximately 10ppb below the state and federal lead action level of 15ppb and are the lowest lead levels Pittsburgh has experienced in 20 years.
The lower lead testing results demonstrate the effectiveness of adding orthophosphate to our drinking water treatment process. In addition, we continued to aggressively replace lead service lines, are monitoring our water treatment improvements, and are working towards our goal of replacing all lead service lines by 2026.
This fall we completed two prominent projects in Highland Park. We restored service to the Microfiltration Plant (MFP) and completed the restoration of the parapet wall around the open Highland I Reservoir. With the completion of these projects, we have improved security around the reservoir, are meeting stricter state water quality standards and have a redundant water system that can better distribute water throughout our entire service area.
The completion of two bond transactions provide a sustainable financial outlook for PWSA. With this funding in place, we have the financial resources to implement our $1.2 billion Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Additionally, we secured a $65,220,000 loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). Its low-interest rate of one percent will reduce our costs and in the long-term, generate savings for customers.
Our Customer Assistance Programs, established in 2018, support our most vulnerable customers. When the new rates go into effect on January 14th, so will several enhancements to these programs to simplify the enrollment process and expand accessibility to more customers.
The discount available through the Bill Discount Program will increase from 75% to 100% on fixed-monthly charges and an additional reduction on water usage is available for very low-income customers enrolled in the program. Those customers enrolled in this program and using up to 5,000 gallons of water per month will see a reduction in their total monthly bill.
Additionally, we are expanding eligibility for the Winter Hardship Moratorium to customers at 300% of the federal poverty level and will launch PGH2O Cares, an expanded outreach program to increase enrollment and help customers reduce their bills.
We are proud of these achievements and recognize that this begins a new era at PWSA – one that strikes a balance between the needs of our customers and the improvements we need to make to our water and sewer systems.
As we enter the new year, my priority as Chief Executive Officer is to rebuild trust and re-establish our credibility with customers. Past behavior and mistakes can no longer be an excuse. We have much work to do and the organization is equipped with the resources, talent, and focus to provide our ratepayers with the water services they expect and deserve. This is our resolution to you. On behalf of PWSA, I wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.
“As we enter the new year, my priority as Chief Executive Officer is to rebuild trust and re-establish our credibility with customers.”