State reps want Public Utility Commission to oversee PWSA

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania state government representatives are introducing legislation to place the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission, House Speaker Mike Turzai and Rep. Harry Readshaw said Thursday.

If passed, the PUC would have the authority to correct financial practices and require upgrades from the utility.

The release highlighted many issues the PWSA has dealt with as a primary factor for placing it under PUC oversight.

“This legislation is about consumer protection and the health and safety of those served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority,” Readshaw said. “This is really a common sense approach that will move the system in a positive direction.”

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The PWSA has faced several issues in the past year, including multimillion-dollar debt and uncollectible amounts owed, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks and noncompliance with federal water quality mandates.

Additionally, the system has thousands of lead service lines, many of which have not been identified or located, the release said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Thursday that the city was not consulted before state legislators announced the bill. Peduto said he first heard about the legislation Wednesday night.

"We were not consulted, but at the same time we are looking at how this additional oversight could benefit the PWSA and, most importantly, provide transparency and accountablity," Peduto said.

Although, Peduto added that the city is not against additional state regulation of the PWSA. He said they are already working with the Department of Environmental Protection in restructuring utility.

Readshaw, a Democrat from Allegheny County, said more state oversight could help solve the problem.

"Perhaps with the guidance from the PUC, it might be a step in the right direction," Readshaw said.

Peduto’s office announced back in April that the Infrastructure Management Group would manage a possible restructuring of the utility.

The group was comprised of four finalists who made presentations to the Blue Ribbon Panel and the mayor’s office.

"After decades of disinvestment and neglect, the PWSA is in need of billions of dollars of long-term infrastructure improvements. It can't borrow its way out of the problem, or implement giant rate increases by residents," Peduto said in a news release in April. "IMG will help us study the best way to keep the city's water asset public, while addressing the improvements that have been ignored for the better part of a century."

Channel 11 learned in April that all options except an outright sale of the utility are on the table.

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