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PWSA hopes to replace 3,400 lead lines using $49.1 million state loan and grant

Bob Bauder
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The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will replace at least 2,800 lead water lines in 2019 and try to finish an additional 600 before year’s end, the executive director said Friday.

Authority board members during a meeting unanimously approved construction contracts totaling $35.9 million for the lead program this year.

Executive Director Bob Weimar said the money is coming from a $49.1 million grant and loan approved in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority. The authority is getting a $35.4 million loan and a grant totaling $13.7 million to replace lead lines in low-income neighborhoods and those with high numbers of lead lines or with high numbers of young children.

“We aren’t going to guarantee that we’ll get 3,400 done by the end of the year, but that would be great if we could do it,” Weimar said. “Based upon our rate of production this past year we think we can get there, but there are so many variables that we don’t really have a handle on.”

PWSA board members also authorized the 25-year loan at a fixed rate of 1 percent. The annual debt repayment will total about $1.6 million, officials said.

PWSA has struggled since 2016 to reduce lead levels in water that exceeded a federal threshold of 15 parts per billion. The most recent test results released last week indicated lead levels of 20 ppb from July to December.

The authority is addressing the problem by replacing all lead water lines in its service area, which includes about 300,000 people in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, and by adding the anti-corrosion chemical orthophosphate to water. Since 2016, PWSA has replaced more than 2,825 water lines

Weimar said PWSA plans to begin adding orthophosphate to city water by the end of March. The chemical forms a coating on the inside of pipes and prevents such metals as lead and copper from draining into the drinking water.

PWSA planned to begin adding the chemical in 2018, but securing state and city permitting has taken longer than expected, Weimar said.

“It’s very unusual for a project to take this long, but there’s a great deal of concern, particularly given the problems that have occurred around the country with chemical additions and such,” he said. “The state wants to get it right, and I can’t blame them.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.