The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has penalized the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority $2.4 million for violating various water regulations in recent years.
DEP is permitting the authority to use $1.8 million of the civil penalty to provide low income residents with grants or low interest loans for replacement of lead water lines supplying their homes.
“Typically a community environmental project accounts for not more than half of a penalty assessment, but we felt that this situation warranted a much more robust effort to assist homeowners, upgrade the system and restore public trust in the water that flows from their faucets,” said Ron Schwartz, DEP’s acting southwest regional director.
DEP penalized PWSA for violations that occurred from 2014 through 2017. They included 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.
PWSA’s lead problem is mainly attributed to service lines owned by PWSA and homeowners. PWSA had been replacing its own lines made of lead, but said state law prohibited replacement of private lines that typically run from a curb to a house. City officials last year stopped partial line replacements after testing showed it was causing more lead to leech into water.
Authority spokesman Will Pickering said a recent change in state law now allows the authority to replace both sides of a service line.
“We believe this gives us the legal ability to perform private line replacement,” he said. “The board and PWSA agreed that we won’t go forward with any partial line replacement.”
PWSA board members approved an agreement Friday with DEP that requires the authority to replace at least 1,341 lead lines by June 30 and continue with line replacement until lead levels reach federally accepted standards.
The agreement also requires the authority to continue a program of locating and determining the number of lead water lines feeding homes and businesses in Pittsburgh.
Officials have estimated that 20 percent of lines providing water to 80,000 customers are made of lead.
The PWSA board unanimously approved a $2.8 million contract Friday with Michael Baker Inc. to conduct 15,000 line inspections next year. The authority has so far inspected 6,000 lines.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.