DEP, water authority come to agreement that ends city boil-water advisory
February 2, 2017 11:58 AM
Bernard R. Lindstrom, PWSA's interim executive director, said in a statement Thursday that the company apologizes for the “massive inconvenience that resulted from the precautionary flush and boil water advisory. We realize this incident created hardships for residents of the city, but know that our main goal at PWSA is, and will continue to be, providing safe drinking water to our customers.”
Mayor Bill Peduto, right, and Kevin Acklin, his chief of staff, talk to each other during a press conference Thursday in Point Breeze.
From left, Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, Mayor Bill Peduto and Kevin Acklin, the mayor's chief of staff, listen on as PWSA interim director Bernard Lindstrom addresses the media Thursday in Point Breeze.
Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mayor Bill Peduto addresses the public on Thursday after PWSA lifted its water restrictions since issuing a precautionary flush and boil order late Tuesday.
By Don Hopey and Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority lifted the precautionary boil water advisory for 100,000 city residents Thursday morning, ending two days of inconvenience, and it began an in-depth review of Highland Park Reservoir water-treatment procedures.
Mayor William Peduto, speaking at a noon news conference, praised PWSA officials who worked late into the night Wednesday to provide the state Department of Environmental Protection with the information it needed to end the boil order.
The state agency directed the water authority to issue the order Tuesday afternoon after low chlorine levels in several tests raised fears that conditions in the water that goes to central and eastern city neighborhoods were favorable for giardia, a parasite that can sicken people and pets.
Subsequent tests found no elevated levels of giardia, and no hospitals reported treating anyone with giardiasis.
“At no time was the public in danger. There was never giardia or bacteria in the water system, and our chlorine exceeded federal and most state requirements,” Mr. Peduto said. “The precautionary [boil water] measure could have lasted three or even seven days, but we were able to resolve it in 42 hours.”
The order was lifted after DEP and PWSA officials, plus Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto’s chief of staff, met early Thursday to review data on chlorine levels and water line flushing and received certification that the Highland Park membrane filtration facility was operating properly. The DEP then said the problems had been corrected and state water quality standards had been met.
“We convinced them [the DEP] that the levels of chlorine in the water system were sufficient throughout the system,” Mr. Acklin said. “And we presented data that confirmed that.”
Gina Cyprych, PWSA director of water quality, said the water line flushing required by the DEP was accomplished in 33 hours, by 8 a.m. Thursday.
Bernard R. Lindstrom, PWSA’s interim executive director, apologized for the two days of “massive inconvenience.”
“We realize this incident created hardships for residents of the city,” Mr. Lindstrom said, “ but know that our main goal at PWSA is, and will continue to be, providing safe drinking water to our customers.”
Robert Weimer, PWSA’s interim director of engineering and construction, said low chlorine levels in water leaving the uncovered Highland Park Reservoir No. 1 and headed to the membrane treatment plant were “erratic and unexplained.”
The membrane filtration plant removes giardia and all other harmful substances from the water. The chlorine is a backup disinfectant. Thursday, the PWSA said the filtration system had been taken off-line while it addresses the low chlorine levels and continues to test the water.
Subsequent tests before the boil-water order revealed other low chlorine readings and indicated that the “contact” time needed to make the chlorine an effective disinfectant wasn’t long enough. Instead of taking up to two hours to travel from the filtration plant to the first customer, as PWSA modeled the data in the Highland Park Reservoir’s 2002 state permit, water was making that trip in 40 to 55 minutes, Mr. Weimer said.
“That issue was at the forefront of the problem,” he said. “We had to submit data we collected and felt there was a reasonable explanation. Based on our measurements and the distribution system, we felt there was no problem.
“But things have changed. It’s a dynamic system and we have to provide better controls,” Mr. Weimer said. “We want to renegotiate the permit so we can agree with the DEP about what the operating conditions should be.”
A fire hydrant runs onto North Euclid Avenue on Thursday in East Liberty. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette)
He said he hopes to have the membrane filtration plant operating again by sometime next week, but until then, additional chlorine will be added to the water. Customers likely will notice a ‘swimming pool” smell and taste.
But even after it ended, the boil-water order left a bad taste with many residents and public officials.
City Council wants state authorities to investigate the PWSA. The entire nine-member council has now joined Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith’s request for a review and audit of PWSA operations by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, her office said Thursday afternoon.
Council is urging Mr. DePasquale and Mr. Shapiro to look at PWSA’s outside contractors, procurement process and “all other areas under their respective jurisdiction,” Mrs. Kail-Smith’s office said in a statement. Council also wants a review on past arrangements with Veolia North America-Northeast LLC, which had a management contract at PWSA from July 12, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2015.
Council’s concerns include high lead levels in water supplied to some city residents and billing issues that have continued for more than two years, according to Mrs. Kail-Smith’s office.
PWSA did not immediately comment, although Mr. Lindstrom said at the noon Thursday news conference that he and the rest of PWSA management were aware of low morale internally and the poor public perception of the authority.
“I can assure you, no one is happy with the public perception of PWSA,’ he said, citing the lead issue, the system’s generally aged infrastructure and tight finances. “We have a plan to improve and we are trying to improve.”
Mr. Acklin said the Peduto administration would talk with council soon about plans to address infrastructure problems, adding that “some solutions might be found in Harrisburg.”
Mr. Peduto said he would welcome any audit of PWSA by Mr. DePasquale or Mr. Shapiro.
Mr. DePasquale has said his office is open to auditing PWSA. But under state rules, he said, PWSA itself would need to request the review. Shapiro spokesman Joe Grace said policy precludes the attorney general’s office from discussing whether it’s investigating any person or agency.
“Clearly, the water authority has lost the trust of the public, and the administration and council are working toward different solutions,” said Councilman Dan Gilman. “I welcome an all-hands-on-deck approach. If there are areas within their jurisdiction where they can take a look and provide advice, I would gladly welcome that.”
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey; Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, email@example.com, @asmeltz.
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