It's been a rough two years for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. High lead levels
have been found in the city's drinking water. The installation of new water meters
lead to billing issues. And many have been critical of the authority's customer service.
According to Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, these issues are "a perfect storm of mistake and incompetence." Earlier today, his office released a performance audit of the authority that examined PWSA's contract with management company Veolia Water North America; the installation of the new water meters; corrosion control treatment; and customer service.
Overall Lamb says mismanagement is to blame for PWSA's issues. He says poor leadership and administrative turnover has left the authority vulnerable to mismanagement and even though Veolia was contracted to increase consistency, a clear plan for the authority never materialized.
"We've never had consistent leadership. The idea behind bringing in a management company was let's create a long term plan for PWSA and whoever PWSA's executive director is can follow that plan," Lamb says. "There's a role here for the board as well. The board just can't accept what's presented to them by the executive director. The board has to be engaged in the decision making down there."
At the heart of all of PWSA's problems are the high lead levels reported over the past year. According to Lamb, lead effects approximately Pittsburgh 20,000 homes. He says the problem would cost $100 million to fix.
"We know there's no lead when it leaves the plant but there is lead when it gets to homes and in some places its at dangerous levels," Lamb says. "It's going to take a significant financial commitment to deal with this problem."
At today's press conference, Lamb was joined by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale who was there to announced that his office will be launching its own audit of the authority, specifically looking at its governance.
"They have had multiple executive directors over the last several years. For those of you who follow my work, you know that I've been highly critical of school district that have significant turnover with superintendents," DePasquale says. "While the issues are different, the operation concerns are the same. If you cannot maintain good quality staff and consistent leadership, your mission and professionalism are going to continually be in flux."
Last week, Mayor Bill Peduto announced the office of municipal investigations would be investigating the authority. The investigation was primarily spurred by the flush and boil advisory
PWSA issued earlier this month that impacted 100,000 city residents. Peduto has also called for an audit of of lead testing kits after only half of the 6,625 testing kits ordered last were returned.
"This is not a fishing expedition. We simply want to discover what went wrong, and how to keep these events from happening again," Peduto said in a statement.
Peduto's announcement has lead many to speculate about the possible privatization of the authority but at the press conference earlier today, Lamb called the notion "wrong headed."
"The answer is not to privatize this authority," Lamb said. "The structure of that authority right now just doesn't lend itself to a private sale. There's not a private partner that would pay real value for the authority. We're talking about a lot of problems down there; but the fact is the system itself is a phenomenal system."