PITTSBURGH - No one is expecting a quick fix for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and dealing with a wide range of problems.
But the audit released Wednesday by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale paints a grim picture of a failing system plagued by mismanagement, interference from city officials and a lack of infrastructure spending.
DePasquale endorsed a public-private partnership in the PWSA’s restructuring, and said he doesn't believe any of the mismanagement has been criminal, but a lot of work needs to be done.
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"The average, everyday Pittsburgher wants clean water and a bill they can afford to pay,” he said. “The current structure of the authority cannot meet these two very basic desires."
Among the questions with no answers: why the PWSA is contractually required to give the city up to 600 million gallons a year of free water, used to fill public pools, water plants at Phipps Conservatory and care for animals at the zoo, all paid for by PWSA customers.
"It's helping plug holes in general fund operations in the city,” said DePasquale. “I don't believe when people pay their water bill that's what they believe it's going for."
The audit also found the PWSA pays the city more than $7 million annually, but the reason is unclear.
"It's crazy, man,” said North Side resident Chris Finley. “I don't understand it, but it's crazy."
Channel 11 took the findings to Mayor Bill Peduto, who said it's all part of the evaluation as the city works to restructure of PWSA.
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"The restructuring will start us at a new starting line,” he said. “Anybody who is getting free water at this point has to understand that it may come at a cost to that organization."
The audit also revealed that the PWSA should spend about $200 million a year to fix its aging pipes, but from 2012-16, it only spent $31 million a year.
"Every single year, without exception, they never invested enough in their infrastructure,” DePasquale said.
The PWSA said it’s working to implement many of the audit's recommendations and they're committed to getting it right.
But the burden of fixing these problems will ultimately fall on ratepayers’ wallets via higher bills.
"It's something you have to deal with, that's all,” said North Side resident Cliff McCaulley. “You can't fight the system and you have to have water."
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