Despite a challenging year, 2020 was marked with several successes for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. We seamlessly provided safe and reliable services during a global pandemic, reached our highest level of capital investment of $122,108,191 and, most notably, brought lead levels into compliance.
This major landmark was achieved in June 2020, with the lowest lead levels in PWSA’s drinking water in over 20 years, at 5 parts per billion (ppb). This was the second consecutive water sampling round under the federal action level, which placed PWSA’s water system back in compliance with regulatory standards.
The journey to reach this point began in 2016 and resulted in one of the most comprehensive, well-designed responses to lead in the country. To date, we have replaced over 8,200 lead lines using innovative and cost-efficient methods and reduced lead levels by improving our water treatment process with the addition of orthophosphate.
Achieving this Landmark
People: Pittsburgh Mayor, William Peduto and his office provided the support to develop our Community Lead Response making it clear that we do everything possible to eliminate the risk of lead in water. Our Board of Directors and executive leadership committed to addressing this crisis when lead levels first exceeded federal standards in 2016. They allocated funding and directed policy changes that made it possible to implement our community-based response. We also established a Lead Help Team, a group of 12 PWSA employees and consultants dedicated to implementing the program. They manage the construction crews that are charged with replacing lead lines, interact with customers eligible for private lead line replacements, and facilitate the testing to track lead levels within our service area.
Changes in Legislation: In 2017, a change in State legislation made it possible to replace full lead service lines. This is a safer approach and provided the ability to use public funding to replace lead service lines on private property.
State Funding: In 2019 we received our first loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) of $49 million, and in 2020 received a second loan of $65 million. This low-interest loan helps to reduce long-term costs to our ratepayers while providing adequate funding to advance the removal of lead.
Addition of Orthophosphate: In April 2019, we began treating water with orthophosphate, which forms a protective barrier between lead service lines and the water flowing through them. Orthophosphate was selected by PWSA and approved by DEP after a comprehensive, year-long study of treatment alternatives.
What’s Next? Going forward, we will continue to replace lead service lines through our water main replacement program. Between 2021 and 2025, we will invest over $250 million in water main replacements, resulting in dozens of miles in new water mains and non-lead service lines. We will also continue to use orthophosphate in our water system to keep lead levels low.
We are proud of this accomplishment and remain committed to providing our drinking water customers with safe, high quality water. We realize that there is no safe level of lead and we are working towards our goal of replacing all lead service lines.
To learn more about our Community Lead Response, please visit lead.pgh2o.com.