As stewards of a vital public resource, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has a responsibility to provide Pittsburgh with reliable, high-quality water services. Through hard work, increased funding, and greater transparency with the public, we are transforming as a modern organization ready to meet the demands of current and future generations of customers.
Over the past several years, while executing one of the most comprehensive lead remediation efforts in the nation and establishing a progressive customer assistance program to benefit our most vulnerable customers, we have also been hard at work planning one of our largest and most complex infrastructure upgrades in many decades.
Our water treatment and distribution systems were developed at the turn of the 20th century. Over time, additional reservoirs and pumping stations were added to accommodate the needs of Pittsburgh’s growing population. While we still use many of these systems today, it’s time to renew them so we can safeguard quality service for our customers for the next one hundred years.
Over the next five years, we will invest over $300 million in a series of large-scale water improvement projects called the Water Reliability Plan. The work will involve rehabilitating or replacing some of the large critical components of our water system, including transmission pipes, reservoirs, pump stations and electrical stations that help to deliver water.
When built, these assets will be the resilient backbone of the water system and allow us to provide continuous service to all customers, even in the event of power outages, weather events or other unforeseen issues that can impact service.
The final centerpiece project of the Water Reliability Plan is the Clearwell replacement at the PWSA Water Treatment Plant. The Clearwell, a large, century-old underground water system used to disinfect and kill harmful bacteria and pathogens in the water, was built with no other back-up. The other Water Reliability Plan projects will give us the needed redundancy to replace the Clearwell while achieving disinfection of the water elsewhere.
Water will be rerouted from the Treatment Plant in Aspinwall, bypass the Clearwell, and continue to the Lanpher Reservoir in Shaler Township, which will act as the Clearwell during the work. The Clearwell replacement alone is a $57 million investment in PWSA’s water future.
While many of these projects will take place behind the gates of PWSA facilities, the benefits will be felt by all our customers. The upgrades will provide consistent water service, ensure water quality and enhance safeguards in case of emergency. With infrastructure assets of this size and importance, we cannot wait to “fix it when it fails”.
The Water Reliability Plan is one of our most ambitious investments, and like many of our water main and sewer rehabilitation projects, we will aggressively pursue state and federal funding for the work. We have applied to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA, program for a flexible and low-interest loans for 49% of the Water Reliability Plan and await their decision in late 2022 or early 2023. Additionally, we plan to submit a request to the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority for the remaining 51%, which we anticipate will be a combination of loan and grant funding.
As a publicly owned and managed utility, utilizing low-interest loans and grants from the state and federal government is essential. Over time, they will save our ratepayers millions when compared to funding work through rates and bond financing. And, since every dollar we receive is invested back in the water system we all rely on, it provides flexibility to prioritize and complete other projects, like the ongoing replacement of lead lines, more quickly.
We are excited for what the future holds at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. This is a transformative time with a renewed focus on public health, the environment, and stewardship of the vital water services we rely on each day. We encourage our customers, and anyone who turns on a tap in Pittsburgh, to follow our progress on the Water Reliability Plan at Pgh2o.com/water-reliability-plan.
Will Pickering is the CEO of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
First Published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 18, 2022, 11:37am. Read the original op-ed at https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2022/03/18/pwsa-infrastructure-water-lead-pipes-pittsburgh-sewer-authority-will-pickering-investment/stories/202203180016.