PWSA sorting through 200,000+ paper records to find lead water lines

A 90-year-old paper record is all the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has to identify lead service lines leading into a Morningside home. It’s not the only such case.

On Wednesday, Channel 11’s Aaron Martin learned that 75 percent of the city's records are older than 1950 and have not been digitized. Without those records, the agency has no idea where very old and potentially hazardous pipes are located.

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"There are some 225,000 pieces of paper we need to look at. Most of these are paper records,” PWSA Director of Engineering Bob Weimar said.

The PWSA must go through each individual record and digitize the documents to find out where the lead pipes are and then replace them.

Agency officials said they’re in the early stages of digitizing records, some dating back more than a century,  to find out which lines are made of lead. The agency must go through each individual record, digitize the documents, find the lead pipes and replace them.

The task was mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after water tests conducted earlier this summer found lead levels above what the state considers safe. Weimar said it’s a problem the PWSA is working to solve.

"We know we're going to have them all over the city. But to optimize the amount of improvement, we're going to focus on areas where we know we have the most lead service lines,” he said.

Weimar said just identifying the lines is expected to take a minimum of eight months and require extra staff. But city councilwoman and PWSA board member Deborah Gross said it’s a project that’s already long overdue.

"That's a fundamental responsibility of the authority,” Gross said, with regard to updating records so if there’s an issue, it can be fixed quickly.

With the time comes added costs. The PWSA estimated the project will cost $20 million, since the utility is forced to expand its scope wider than ever before.

"Historically, we would be looking at a few of these records at one time, or we would be looking at a street. Now, we're looking at the entire city,” Weimar said.

To determine where the lead lines are located, the PWSA is sending crews to each neighborhood to do physical surveys and verify those aging records are accurate. From there, they’ll come up with a plan to start replacing the thousands of lead service lines throughout the city.

Stay with Channel 11 News and for continuing coverage. 

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