The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is making an unprecedented level of investment in the water systems that serve Pittsburgh residents and its surrounding neighborhoods. Since 2018, we have invested more than $524 million to renew critical drinking water infrastructure, remove lead service lines, construct new stormwater infrastructure, and rehabilitate century old sewer mains.
In fact, PWSA has never been in a better position of fulfilling our mission to protect public health and the environment. In early 2023, we celebrated the removal of the 10,000th lead service line and are on track to remove all lead pipes from our system by 2026. We completed the first phase of large water pumping and distribution projects that are part of the Water Reliability Plan in late 2022 and immediately started constructing the second phase of projects. These once-in-a-generation projects, mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), require us to complete the work according to an aggressive schedule. Also in 2022, we completed six stormwater projects in five Pittsburgh neighborhoods and rehabilitated 19.6 miles of aging sewer main.
With this level of investment required for the next several years, PWSA filed a rate request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today that would provide essential funding for mandated infrastructure improvements, meet more stringent environmental and regulatory requirements, and address increasing operating costs related to inflation.
The PUC will evaluate the request, and if approved, will continue the investment that is needed to improve the safety and reliability of our water systems. Importantly, this proposal also includes an expansion of our customer assistance programs and a one-time $40 credit for residential customers to put towards rain barrels.
The PUC review process can take up to nine months with the Commission considering the request in early 2024. More information about the rate filing is available at www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture.
“As a publicly owned and operated water utility, every dollar we receive from customers is invested into the water systems we rely on each day,” said Will Pickering, PWSA’s Chief Executive Officer. “We never lose sight that this is your water and we’re dedicated to investing your rate dollars responsibly.”
To keep rates as low as possible, PWSA will continue to aggressively pursue grants and low-interest loans from state and federal funding partners. Since 2018, we have received more than $645 in low-interest loans and grants from PENNVEST to support our capital program. Low-interest loans, and grants that do not need to be repaid, will over time save ratepayers millions of dollars in comparison to traditional financing. We have estimated that over 30-years, PENNVEST funding will save ratepayers approximately $539 million.
What Customer Enhancements is PWSA Proposing?
Customer Assistance Programs
Since 2018, thousands of PWSA customers have benefitted from our customer assistance programs. Currently, more than 6,000 customers are enrolled in our monthly Bill Discount Program and through the Hardship Grant Program, we have distributed more than $200,000 in grants to more than 850 households.
These essential programs help income-qualified customers reduce their monthly bill and pay down past due balances. What’s more, through a service-area-wide customer satisfaction survey conducted last summer, 72% of respondents support PWSA using ratepayer dollars to enhance or expand these programs. Enhancements to these programs under this proposal include:
- Increasing income eligibility for the Bill Discount Program from 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 200% FPL.
- Offering two separate $300 grants to be made available through the Hardship Grant Program. If approved, income eligible customers could receive one $300 annual grant for water services and another $300 annual grant for wastewater conveyance services – increasing their total annual benefit to $600.
For more information about our customer assistance programs, please visit www.pgh2o.com/cap.
Enhancements to Stormwater Credit Program
In 2022, PWSA established a stormwater fee to equitably charge for stormwater services across Pittsburgh. It is based on the hard or impervious surfaces on a property. Managing stormwater is a city-wide endeavor and there are steps we can all take to reduce stormwater runoff and protect our rivers and streams.
When the stormwater fee was first established, PWSA offered a credit program that focused on the installation of stormwater control measures to reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. With this filing, PWSA is proposing a one-time $40 rain barrel credit. Any residential property owner who currently has, has recently installed, or plans to install at least a 50-gallon rain barrel could receive a one-time reimbursement if approved.
What does this mean for ratepayers if the request is approved by the PUC?
PWSA is requesting an overall rate increase of $146.1 million over three years. If approved, this request continues the investment PWSA is making toward mandated infrastructure improvements and will help to meet environmental and safe drinking water regulatory requirements. Additionally, non-discretionary operating expenses have increased significantly. Specifically, chemicals required for drinking water treatment and electricity costs for pumping and distributing water have increased by as much as 50 percent. As a public utility, responsible for protecting public health, these supplies and operating expenses are essential regardless of cost.
If the Authority’s entire request is approved, the total bill for water, wastewater conveyance, and stormwater management for a typical Residential customer using 3,000 gallons of water per month with a 5/8-inch meter and charged the base rate for stormwater services would increase from $86.43 to $103.41 per month or by 19.6% in 2024. It would increase from $103.41 to $123.55 or by 19.5% in 2025 and increase from $123.55 to $146.12 or 18.3% in 2026.
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 $44.15 per month under the existing rates to $51.85 per month or by 17.5% in 2024. It would increase from $51.85 to $60.83 or by 17.3% in 2025 and increase from $60.83 to $72.17 or 18.7% in 2026.
For more information about our rate filing, please visit www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture
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, wastewater conveyance, and stormwater 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.
“We are taking every reasonable step to provide our customers with safe and reliable water services at the lowest possible rates,” Board Chair, Alex Sciulli stated. “With PUC oversight there is greater transparency and accountability throughout the process. We encourage the public to participate in our rate-setting process and appreciate your support as we make the mandated investment in our infrastructure.”
For more information about the rate filing, please visit www.pgh2o.com/ourwaterfuture. Between May 9th and June 8th, customers will receive a detailed explanation of the rate proposal in their bill.