Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pwsa Eyes Double-Digit Rate Increase for 2018 Water Bills Risk of System Failure High, Official Says

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pwsa Eyes Double-Digit Rate Increase for 2018 Water Bills Risk of System Failure High, Official Says

Article excerpt

For years, households served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority have paid less for water than many surrounding communities do.

But that gap may narrow in 2018. PWSA is weighing a potential rate increase that would outpace this year's 13 percent boost, said Robert Weimar, the interim executive director, in an interview Friday.

The increase that took effect in January is part of a continuing effort to strengthen flagging water infrastructure, along with billing practices and overall financial management. City officials have said years of lackluster investment - and low service rates - helped foster problems that are now critical.

"People made decisions based on the perception of what the ratepayers were willing to accept rather than explaining to the ratepayers what our needs are, and the rate that was necessary to meet them," Mr. Weimar said.

Now, he said, PWSA needs to take the opposite stance "because we're at a point where the risk of [system] failure is so high." He didn't put an exact figure on a prospective rate hike, which would support the ongoing improvements.

The authority also is contemplating an assistance program for low-income customers.

PWSA board members retained Mr. Weimar in June for a year-long appointment as executive director. He quickly vowed that "passive management is gone" at the struggling authority, which has been forced to institute two boil-water advisories since January. In June, repairs finished on a critical, 60-inch water main that had ruptured over the winter.

Meanwhile, an outside consultant is evaluating PWSA for a potential restructuring. The Washington, D.C.-based Infrastructure Management Group is due to release its final findings Nov. 8, and lawmakers are considering whether to pull PWSA under state Public Utility Commission oversight.

"Pittsburgh certainly isn't alone in facing major challenges in its water infrastructure. …

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