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Legislation allowing PWSA to replace private lead lines advances

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 5:03 p.m.
This lead water pipe inside a house connects the home’s plumbing to the main water pipes.
Thomas Eshenbaugh | For the Tribune-Review
This lead water pipe inside a house connects the home’s plumbing to the main water pipes.

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday advanced legislation that would allow the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to replace private residential water lines made of lead and require home sellers to disclose the existence of lead lines to buyers.

The city is circumventing a 2011 Commonwealth Court ruling that effectively prohibits PWSA from replacing privately owned water lines by declaring the situation a public safety hazard, according to Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff.

State and city laws permit the city to rectify public safety hazards, Acklin said.

“We think we have the police power under city code to empower the public safety director and the mayor to enter into contracts with private homeowners ... to remove the (private) lead lines,” Acklin said during a meeting with City Council.

Officials believe that 25 percent of PWSA's 71,000 water service lines are made of lead. PWSA lines run from water mains to a “curb box” connection on a private property. Under existing regulations, the property owner is responsible for the line running from the box into the home.

PWSA and Pittsburgh intends to replace all lead lines over a period of years.

Acklin said the city is seeking a low-interest loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority to help cover the estimated $410 million cost.

A homeowner would have to volunteer for water line replacement and could be asked to pay at least part of the cost based on income level. The owner would be responsible for repairs to landscaping and interior damage at their property after lines are replaced.

The city could offer grants or low-interest loans for lead line replacement to homeowners, Acklin said.

“For poor residents of the city, we think that should be free,” he said.

A separate ordinance would require residents who are selling homes built before 1970 to perform a “scratch test” of water lines where they enter a water meter and disclose the existence of lead lines to potential buyers or renters.

The test requires an owner to scratch the surface of a water line to clearly identify pipe material. The owner must photograph the pipe and send the photograph to PWSA, which can determine if it's made of lead.

Owners must disclose the existence of lead lines during the closing of a property sale or via a rental agreement, according to the legislation.

“Both here at (council) and at PWSA we are committed to zero lead,” said Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park, who swerves on the PWSA board. “That means zero lead in the lines and at all parcels across the city.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or @bobbauder.

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