DEP fines Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority $50K for violations
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority $50,000 for permitting a release of chlorinated water into the Allegheny River and failing to provide erosion and sedimentation controls during a water main break in 2017.
PWSA Executive Director Robert Weimar said an employee ignored DEP emails inquiring about the water discharges for two to three weeks. The employee is no longer employed at PWSA. Weimar would neither identify the employee nor give a reason for the departure.
DEP cited PWSA for violating the federal Clean Streams Act. PWSA directors voted unanimously Friday to pay the fine over three years. The authority will pay DEP $10,000 this year and $20,000 in each of the following two years.
“The violations relate to the fact that … neither sedimentation erosion controls nor the abatement of any chlorine in the water were in place,” Weimar said. “I can’t speak to the reasons for the work not having been done. However, I do know that at the time there were several emergencies all at once and we were frankly struggling to keep the water system operating.”
A century-old main feeding Lanpher Reservoir in Shaler ruptured Feb. 16 beneath Parker Street in Etna. It sent 10,000 gallons of water per minute into a storm drain and the Allegheny River. The leak threatened to drain the 133 million-gallon reservoir that provides water to North Side residents and businesses.
A water main at the Bell Harbor Yacht Club in O’Hara also ruptured at the same time.
Weimar said DEP emailed inquiries about the discharges, but the unidentified employee ignored the emails.
“Once we were advised that this was an issue, we did in fact take the appropriate actions,” Weimar said. “We have also implemented a new set of standard operating procedures, which are now in place. Lastly, one of the major issues was that apparently the notification went to someone who decided not to respond. That person is no longer with us, but it’s fair to say that we’ve created a far more robust emergency communication plan, such that these communications will not fall on deaf ears.”
Several board members said DEP should have permitted PWSA to use the fine for PWSA programs, such as replacing private lead water lines in Pittsburgh.
“My concern with these fines is it’s actually the ratepayers that pay this money, and yet so far we’ve been unable to fully make sure that all of the fine money somehow benefits the ratepayers,” Director Jim Turner said.
Last year, DEP penalized PWSA $2.5 million for violations that occurred from 2014 through 2017, including exceeding a federal threshold for lead levels in water, switching chemicals used to limit lead levels in water and failing to replace a required number of lead service lines. DEP permitted the authority to use $1.8 million of the civil penalty to provide low-income residents with grants or low-interest loans to replace lead water lines supplying their homes.
Board Chairman Paul Leger noted that DEP originally wanted to fine PWSA $100,000, but staff successfully negotiated a lower amount.
“Even through we are not getting a direct benefit of it, we are paying less on behalf of the ratepayers than we would have paid otherwise,” Leger said, thanking the staff.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected]