Rate filing prioritizes water safety and reliability, stormwater solutions, and customer protections.
2020 was the most productive year on record for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). With an investment of $122 million in capital improvements, the Authority is renewing critical water infrastructure, replacing lead service lines and aging water mains, constructing stormwater infrastructure, and rehabilitating sewer pipes that are a century old.
With this level of investment continuing for the next several years, PWSA filed a rate request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today that, if approved, would provide the necessary additional funding to continue the investment that is needed to improve the safety and reliability of our water systems, advance stormwater solutions, and provide enhanced protections for our most vulnerable customers.
The PUC will evaluate the request, which includes a revenue increase totaling $32.2 million or 17.2% that will be phased in over two years. This proposed amount includes the addition of a new stormwater fee and new enhancements to customer assistance programs. The PUC review process can take up to nine months with the Commission considering the request in early 2022. More information about the rate filing is available at www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture.
“As a publicly owned and controlled utility, every dollar we receive from our customers is invested back into your water systems,” stated Will Pickering, PWSA’s Chief Executive Officer. “Our water infrastructure was built at the turn of the 20th century and has served us well. It is now time to rebuild our system for the next one hundred years so we can provide the quality water services that Pittsburgh expects and deserves.”
In consideration of the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, PWSA is proposing the most minimal rate request to implement its capital improvement plan, expand operations, and maintain customer service levels. The increase will be phased in over two-years to reduce the impact on ratepayers and includes additional enhancements to our customer assistance programs. PWSA is doing everything possible to keep rates as low as possible while meeting our obligations to deliver high quality water services.
Will there be a stormwater fee?
PWSA has focused on improved stormwater management for several years and a stormwater fee, if approved, would begin to address many of the wet weather challenges experienced in Pittsburgh. It would provide a dedicated funding source to improve stormwater management, build innovative stormwater infrastructure, reduce sewer overflows, and lessen the amount of pollution entering our rivers and streams.
The proposed stormwater fee is based on the amount of impervious surface on a property. In Pittsburgh, the average amount of impervious surface on a residential property is approximately 1,650 square feet. For the purposes of calculating the stormwater rate for all properties in Pittsburgh, we determined that 1,650 square feet of impervious surface will be equivalent to one residential unit (ERU). ERUs are accepted as the industry standard for determining a stormwater fee. If approved, the stormwater fee will be applied to all residential and non-residential properties in Pittsburgh in the following way:
|Stormwater Customer Categories||ERUs||Monthly Rate 2022||Monthly Rate 2023|
|Residential Tier 1
(>=400 to <1,015 sf)
|Residential Tier 2
(>=1,015 to <2,710 sf)
|Residential Tier 3
For more information about our plans for managing stormwater and the fee please visit www.pgh2ostormwater.com.
What does this mean for ratepayers if the request is approved by the PUC?
In 2022, rates are proposed to increase by $22.0 million or 11.7% and in 2023, would increase by $10.2 million or by 5.4% for water and wastewater conveyance operations and stormwater management. If approved, this request continues the investment PWSA is making in needed infrastructure improvements.
PWSA’s typical residential customer uses approximately 3,000 gallons of water per month with a 5/8-inch meter and generates stormwater runoff from one ERU. That customer’s total bill would increase from $79.34 per month to $87.19 per month or by 9.89% in 2022, and from $87.19 to $91.05 per month or by 4.43% in 2023.
For a typical residential customer enrolled in PWSA’s Bill Discount Program using 3,000 gallons per month with a 5/8-inch meter and a reduced stormwater fee, the total bill would increase from $41.77 to $45.34 per month or by 8.54% in 2022, and from $45.34 to $47.90 per month or by 5.64% in 2023.
The current rate filing includes proposed enhancements to our customer assistance program that makes these valuable programs available to more customers. They include expanding the Winter Shutoff Moratorium to include adults 65 and older regardless of income, increasing the volumetric discount to 50% for very low-income customers enrolled in the Bill Discount Program, providing a 75% discount on the stormwater fee for all customers enrolled in the Bill Discount Program, and increasing eligibility for the Hardship Grant Program from 150% of the federal poverty level to 300%. Additional assistance opportunities for all PWSA customers, regardless of income, are also included in the rate proposal. For more information about our customer assistance programs, please visit www.pgh2o.com/cap.
“PWSA recognizes the importance of balancing the needs of our customers with the improvements we must make to our water, sewer, and stormwater systems,” says Will Pickering, PWSA’s CEO. “Our proposal builds off the customer protections put in place earlier this year and continues to help make bills as affordable as possible for those who need it most,” Pickering stated. “During these challenging times, the affordability of our rates cannot be ignored. No one should have to choose between paying their water bill and other essential expenses.”
PUC Rate Setting Process and Oversight
PWSA ratepayers will have an opportunity to participate in the PUC’s review of the proposed rates. In the coming months, the PUC will hold public hearings on the proposal. PWSA will provide public testimony to justify and explain the requested rates. The PUC’s Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement, Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate and Small Business Advocate will also likely review and comment on the request. The PUC may elect to change the rates included in the rate filing.
The PUC began providing oversight of our customer service, operations, and ratemaking after the Governor signed Act 65 in December 2017. We are the first municipal water and wastewater authority to be regulated by the PUC. For more information on PUC oversight and actions customers can take in response to the rate request, please visit www.pgh2o.com/customer-rights.
As a publicly owned authority, every dollar we collect in rate revenue is invested back into the organization to improve drinking water, sewer, and stormwater services. We never lose sight that this is your water. We are proud to serve Pittsburgh and are dedicated to providing the water services you expect and deserve.
For more information about the rate filing, please visit www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture. Between April 13th and May 12th, customers will receive a detailed explanation of the rate proposal in their bill.