1984: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] was created under the state’s Municipal Authorities Act to refurbish infrastructure across the system but the water department is still run by the city.
1995: The city transfers its water employees to PWSA and leases its water lines to the authority for $101 million over 30 years. PWSA issues a $200 million bond. The city signs a cooperation agreement with PWSA that includes 600 million gallons of free water for the city every year.
March 1995: PWSA’s first executive director Glenn Cannon complains that a sewer lining contract was not fairly awarded because of a city councilor’s intervention. “We operate the system on the edge. … It was neglected for so long,” Cannon told the city council three months later.
October 13, 1995: Executive director Glenn Cannon leaves for a job in Florida, and Greg Tutsock, associate director, is named acting director.
December 16, 1996: Timothy Equels takes over as executive director for $76,000 per year and Tutsock returns to role as associate director.
October 12, 1998: John W. Hanna takes over as acting director, replacing Timothy Equels who resigned.
December 1998: Mayor Tom Murphy presents a budget that increases PWSA’s annual payments to the city from $4.8 million to $7.1 million. PWSA raised its rates on schools and hospitals to pay for it.
1999: PWSA’s water tests at 2 ppb for lead.
October 2000: Sharon L. Antonucci, a contractor for PWSA., was indicted on 13 counts of mail fraud for overbilling PWSA for cleaning catch basins.
December 2000: A request for proposal is issued for a private company to help with management and John Hanna is fired. Hanna and the city accused each other of corruption.
January 2001: Greg Tutsock, previously the associate director and then acting director for a short time, is hired as the permanent executive director.
May of 2001: U.S. Water LLC comes in to take over management of PWSA.
December 29, 2003: The City of Pittsburgh enters Act 47 Financial Distress.
September 1 2006: Luke Ravenstahl takes over as mayor of Pittsburgh after Bob O’Connor passes away while in office.
2007: PWSA enters into a variable rate bond deal that will later cost the agency upwards of $100 million.
September 13, 2007: Ravenstahl fires Tutsock who had served for nearly seven years as the PWSA director, four years longer than anyone before or since. Mike Lichte, the director of engineering, takes over as acting director.
April 2008: Michael Kenney is hired as PWSA’s new executive director at a salary of $130,000.
May 10, 2008: The authority issues $320 million in additional debt to pay for plant and sewer line repairs and refinance some of its old debt to save money. These bonds would later become a subject of controversy after the variable rate auction market tanks.
August 21, 2008: Len Bodack, former city councilman and PWSA board member, is hired as a mechanic supervisor at PWSA, which was criticized by the Post-Gazette editorial board for the appearance of cronyism.
September 2008: Executive Director Michael Kenney hires his former boss’ firm, Resource Development and Management [RDM], as a consultant at PWSA.
July 2009: RDM’s report says there is a general lack of preventative maintenance at PWSA and overreliance on a single contractor.
2010: Employees at PWSA’s Aspinwall plant start diverting sludge that was supposed to be treated by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority [ALCOSAN] directly into the river.
April 2010: The PWSA board announces an investigation into Michael Kenney’s potential conflict of interest with the firm that was awarded a contract for a controversial water line insurance program. The PWSA board later concluded that he didn’t do anything illegal but had serious ethical lapses.
July 20, 2010: Ravenstahl said he would look into privatizing PWSA and the parking authority as he seeks to find $200 million for the city’s pension fund.
May 2011: Chester Engineers publishes a study of PWSA’s 40-year capital needs, which shows PWSA’s system needs more than $2.5 billion in investments.
May 2011: PWSA hires Michael Baker International to look into the feasibility of creating a stormwater district to build green and gray infrastructure.
July 2011: Residents complain that flooding is getting worse after heavy rains cause sewer backups.
August. 19, 2011: Four residents die during flash flooding on Washington Boulevard.
2012: PWSA’s water tests at 10 ppb for lead.
June 8, 2012: PWSA announces it will hire Veolia Water North America after more than a year and a half without a permanent executive director.
July 2013: PWSA’s contract with Veolia is extended.
September 2013: PWSA almost violates the 15 ppb federal limit for lead in the drinking water, register at 14.7 ppb.
2014: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] finds problems at PWSA’s lab where they test for contaminants like lead and PWSA voluntarily withdraws its accreditation the following year.
January – March, 2014: City council starts receiving complaints about billing issues at PWSA.
March 17, 2014: Mayor Bill Peduto nominates a slate of new PWSA board members.
April 2014: A PWSA maintenance supervisor hints at a change in corrosion control in an internal email. That same month Flint, Michigan, changed the source of its drinking water as it began the process of trying to supply its own drinking water.
August 2014: PWSA under Veolia touts new meters that will allow customers to go online to see their bills and catch leaks.
September 1, 2014: Only half of the city had the correct meters installed for PWSA’s new billing system that went into effect; 29% of customers hung up before getting their call answered to troubleshoot billing issues, among other concerns.
November 14, 2014: Board chair Alex Thomson praises Veolia’s work and the board renews its contract.
February 20, 2015: City Councilor and PWSA board member Deborah Gross asks why some customers did not receive a bill.
May 15, 2015: PWSA hires Jim Good as its first permanent executive director since 2010 at a salary of $240,000. Good had been serving as the executive director as a Veolia employee.
October 16, 2015: Glenn Lijewski wrote in an email to his supervisors that the drinking water plant had saved money by switching corrosion control chemicals.
Jan 5, 2016: Michigan declares a state of emergency in Flint.
Feb 29, 2016: WESA reports that the PWSA “has no idea which houses have lead service lines.”
Mar 03, 2016: The Post-Gazette reports that PWSA Executive Director Jim Good resigned due to mounting issues at the PWSA, such as shoddy metering. David Donahoe, the former director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, takes over as interim executive director.
April 25, 2016: The DEP orders the PWSA to begin lead testing after the department learned PWSA had switched from soda ash to caustic soda without informing them.
July 2016: PWSA releases lead test results for 100 homes. Ten of the homes had lead levels of 22 ppb or more, which exceeds the federal action limit of 15 ppb.
July 27, 2016: PWSA agrees to hire K. Charles Griffin to be the next executive director.
August 3, 2016: PublicSource reports that residents will need to replace their half of lead service lines and that there is an increased risk of lead exposure from partial line replacement.
September 2016: Bernard Lindstrom becomes the PWSA’s third acting executive director in a year.
October 12, 2016: PWSA files a lawsuit against Veolia, claiming the company “grossly mismanaged” Pittsburgh’s water.
December 2016: Peoples Natural Gas emails Peduto that an offer to help with PWSA may be coming.
January 2017: The Our Water campaign forms from various environmental, community and labor groups to press for safe, affordable and public water.
January 2017: PWSA comes up with a five-year capital plan to increase spending from about $30 million annually to $188 million by 2021.
January 31, 2017: PWSA issues a precautionary flush and boil advisory because of low chlorine levels that lasts for two days. 100,000 customers are impacted, making it one of Pittsburgh’s largest ever.
February 16, 2017: City Controller Michael Lamb releases his audit of the PWSA, saying a “perfect storm of mistakes and incompetence” led to the PWSA’s issues with billing.
February 28, 2017: Gross advocates for a plan to provide free lead filters to PWSA customers with kids 6 and younger.
March 17, 2017: Lindstrom, who became executive director in September 2016, extends his contract through March 13, 2019.
April 1, 2017: The board decides to table Lindstrom’s contract until the new board is in place. Bob Weimar, who has been acting as director of engineering, begins overseeing day-to-day operations as interim director.
April 11, 2017: The Our Water campaign hosts activists from Flint, Michigan.
April 19, 2017: At the first mayoral debate, former council member and mayoral candidate Darlene Harris criticizes Peduto for his handling of PWSA.
April 21, 2017: Peduto nominates Jim Turner, Debbie Lestistian and Chaton Turner to the PWSA board.
May 2017: A whistleblower files a complaint about sludge being dumped in the river at PWSA after a manager didn’t respond.
June 23, 2017: PWSA officially hires Bob Weimar, its sixth director in seven years, for up to $350,000.
August 28, 2017: Infrastructure Management Group, a consultant hired by the city, describes PWSA as “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure.” That same day, PWSA issued a flush and boil advisory for more than 18,000 customers on the North Side and Millvale.
October 18, 2017: Pittsburgh submits its official bid for an Amazon headquarters, touting all the benefits the city provides to its residents.
October 25, 2017: The DEP requires PWSA to make critical upgrades and repairs to the water system to ensure adequate pressure and volume.
November 2017: PWSA signs a consent order with the DEP to replace lead lines. Its first deadline is June 2018. It also releases a turn-around plan.
November 1, 2017: An audit by the state highlights PWSA’s governance problems, in particular how its oversight board has been overly influenced by the mayor’s office.
November 8, 2017: The board passes a rate increase that will, over three years, increase customer bills by nearly 50%.
November 27, 2017: IMG submits its final 50-page report to the Blue Ribbon Panel, including a recommendation to sign an asset management lease with a private water utility.
December 21, 2017: Gov. Tom Wolf signs legislation putting PWSA under the Public Utilities Commission [PUC] oversight.
December 28, 2017: The Blue Ribbon Panel releases another report that makes “Separating PWSA from political influence” one of its central recommendations.
January 2018: Peduto’s chief of staff at the time Kevin Acklin leaves city hall and joins Peoples Gas as general counsel.
January 3, 2018: Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, says PWSA is her chief concern for Peduto’s next four years in office.
January 2018: PWSA records a record 87 water main breaks for the month.
February 22, 2018: A $1 billion-plus pitch by Peoples Gas to privatize Pittsburgh’s drinking water system becomes public.
May 2018: Peoples Gas meets with city councilors about its proposal to create a new water treatment plant that would provide water to Pittsburgh.
May 20, 2018: The Intercept publishes an article highlighting Veolia’s responsibility for both Flint and Pittsburgh’s lead crises.
June 2018: Our Water Campaign advocates against the Peoples Gas proposal.
June 30, 2018: PWSA meets its deadline to replace 1,341 lead lines and exceeds it by a few.
July 19, 2018: The Peoples Gas plan is met with resistance from inside PWSA and council.
August 9, 2018: State Rep. and House Speaker Mike Turzai and Peduto spar about PWSA and privatization.
October 17, 2018: PWSA secures $49 million in loans from state for lead-line replacements.
November 15, 2018: PWSA releases a 12-year turn-around plan to compete against privatization proposals.
February 2019: State attorney general files 161 misdemeanor charges against PWSA for exposing customers to high levels of lead.
March 2019: PWSA establishes its own pension plan. Employees before 2019 are grandfathered into the city’s pension.
March 26, 2019: Peduto signs pledge to keep PWSA public.
April 2019: PWSA starts adding orthophosphate to its water after more than a year of testing. Orthophosphate prevents lead from leaching into the water.
June 7, 2019: A new agreement between PWSA and the city is announced, putting an end to the city’s free water. PWSA reduces its $7.1 million annual fee paid to the city to $3.9 million in pension costs.
June 18, 2019: PWSA issues more than $214 million in bonds, about half of which will go to paying off the authority’s debt from its 1995 lease from the city.
July of 2019: Early data shows orthophosphates have begun to reduce lead levels across PWSA’s coverage area.
September 6, 2019: PWSA enters into an agreement with the DEP that compels it to make large changes to prepare for an upgrade to the Clearwell where chlorine is added. It’s one of the most vulnerable spots in the city’s water system.
January 24, 2020: PWSA’s lead levels test below 15 ppb for the first time since before the crisis.
February 4, 2020: Peduto replaces Gross on the board with City Councilor Erika Strassburger.
February 27, 2020: Peduto announces a nominating committee led by former Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg for the PWSA board. The committee recommends the next six of the board’s members.
June 22, 2020: PWSA’s lead levels are in compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.
July 16, 2020: PWSA reaches a settlement with the state attorney general to pay $500,000 for high lead levels.
Nov 18, 2020: PWSA and a supervisor are indicted for dumping sludge between 2010 and 2017.
December 3, 2020: The PUC approves smaller rate increase than PWSA proposed.
March 2021: PWSA board expands from seven to nine members.
April 13, 2021: PWSA proposes rate increases that include a stormwater fee.
Sept 2021: Additional assistance for low income customers and a stormwater fee is approved by the PUC.
2025: PWSA can buy the underground pipes it’s been leasing from the city for $1.
Explore more stories in this series: “A water crisis swept through Pittsburgh five years ago: This is the fullest account of what happened.”
Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s environment and health reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ORMorrison.
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