By Bob Bauder, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority board of directors unanimously approved a moratorium Thursday on water shutoffs this winter for needy residential customers who have not paid their bills.
The moratorium from Dec. 1 through March 31 is restricted to income eligible residents who do not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The cap would be $61,500 for a family of four. PWSA supplies water to about 300,000 people in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.
PWSA spokesman Will Pickering said an outside company will be hired to screen customers facing a water shut off and advise PWSA when a customer qualifies for the moratorium.
“This will help our customers make it through the winter without facing shut offs,” said PWSA Director Deb Gross, who also serves on Pittsburgh City Council.
Gross recommended the moratorium, noting that other utilities have similar policies for winter and that many residents of Pittsburgh use water to heat their homes.
Board members also directed PWSA staff to develop a customer assistance program designed to help residents pay water bills. Gross called the moratorium a first step.
“What our goal is is to be easier for our customers to work with so they can stay current (on bills),” she said.
In unrelated business, board members approved emergency work orders at two major reservoirs and a pumping station to meet deadlines set by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
An emergency work order permits PWSA to suspend competitive bidding procedures, but Pickering said the authority has not yet determined if that will be necessary. DEP issued an administrative order that forces PWSA to step up repairs on the Lanpher and Highland 1 reservoirs and the Bruecken pumping station, which feeds water to Pittsburgh’s East End. Under the DEP order, PWSA must submit permit applications for the work by Nov. 30.
PWSA is repairing a torn cover on Lanpher in Shaler that caused a boil water advisory this summer after DEP determined that bird droppings could have contaminated the water. The authority plans to purchase new covers and liners for the 133 million gallon reservoir at a cost of about $11 million.
Highland 1 Reservoir in Highland Park, Pittsburgh’s only open reservoir, has been off line since February because of fluctuating chlorine levels that dipped below acceptable standards. PWSA is planning to install an ultraviolet system for treating water that is estimated to cost $2 million.
DEP also ordered PWSA to install a new pumping system and electrical backup at the Bruecken station and sensors for testing water pressure at low pressure points in its water system.
Pickering didn’t have an immediate cost estimate for those jobs.