Throughout the country, states are beset with issues related to water, stemming not only from drought but also from failing water systems, for both drinking and sewage.  Lack of funding and mismanagement are often at the heart of these issues resulting in a national grade of C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for drinking water infrastructure and D+ for wastewater as of its last reporting in 2018.  Some states have more issues than others, one of which is Pennsylvania with a grade of D for drinking water and D- for wastewater. 

Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh have been in the news for more than a decade with various water troubles, including boil-water advisories and water main break floods, punctuated by consent decrees and violations of the Clean Water Act.

In February 2021, the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA)agreed to a consent decree with the EPA resulting from various stormwater inspection and enforcement violations.  The agreement requires a schedule of corrective actions by the city and PWSA to be completed by March 2022.  In 2017, PWSA agreed to a consent decree regarding violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act when a series of charges were made regarding lead:  Pipes were found to exceed the action level of 15 ppb and lines were not replaced as established by the EPA and Pennsylvania code.  Further, they were charged with failure to “submit an inventory of where the lead service lines are and replace at least 7 percent of them” and additional charges because they failed to make the necessary replacements.[1]  Finally, there were charges due to a failure to notify residents when pipe replacements would occur as well as failing to meet water sampling requirements. 

Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) is subject to a consent decree originating in 2008 but modified in 2020 pertaining to sewage overflows into rivers and streams and illegal discharges from sanitary sewer outfalls. 

In September of 2021, PWSA was sentenced for dumping clarifier sludge in the Allegheny River multiple times between 2010 and 2017, violating the Clean Water Act.  Accordingly, PWSA will be on probation for 3 years and was fined $500,000.  The money from the fine is to be used “to pay for a comprehensive environmental compliance program to which PWSA must adhere” and hire an Environmental Compliance Manager to “receive complaints and conduct investigations concerning environmental issues.”[2]

Some argue that the agreements have forced Pittsburgh to resolve issues that otherwise may have continued indefinitely.  The city has made improvements in billing and is working to address flooding issues.  Lead levels have been reduced to the lowest in decades, and the city is on track to remove all lead pipes, both public and private, by 2026.[3]  The costs of water and sewage will increase considerably, but the lack of funding is a major reason the city’s water has been at risk.

[1] Shoemaker, J. Dale, and Lindsay Patross. “What the Future Holds for Pittsburgh’s Water Authority.” PublicSource, 8 Aug. 2019,

[2] “Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Pleads Guilty to Clean Water Act Violations.” The United States Department of Justice, 12 Jan. 2021,

[3] Morrison, Oliver. “The Untold Story of Pittsburgh’s Water Crisis and a Future of $300 Water Bills.” PublicSource, 10 Nov. 2021,