Blog

Raw Talk: One Water Summit Highlights Need for Equity in Billing, Workforce Development

Robert A. Weimar, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority | November 8, 2019

In recent editions of this column, I have been focused on extoling the ability of the PWSA team to “Get Stuff Done” in our efforts to renew our infrastructure and increase our water distribution capacity. However, we also understand that we must make investments in people by dedicating time and resources to creating an organization that serves our ratepayers and our employees. 
 
In September, I joined members of my team, Pittsburgh government officials, and local community leaders in Austin for the US Water Alliance’s One Water, One Future Summit. The Alliance is a national water sector organization with a primary goal to educate the public about the value of clean, reliable drinking water and the importance of investment in aging water systems. The Alliance recognizes that drinking water plays a key role in ensuring a high quality of life for all citizens countrywide and advocates for water sustainability. They encourage cities to address availability, quality, and affordability of water, as well as creating a local, sustainable workforce to meet these responsibilities. 
 
Our Pittsburgh Alliance delegation is comprised of ten community leaders and senior PWSA managers. We have joined six other major Northeastern US City delegations to collaboratively address water equity, water quality, and workforce challenges. We are all facing similar challenges and are benefitting from our joint assessment of programs that have been fully tested and found successful elsewhere.
 
We face challenges in the coming years to address the lack of past investment and poor conditions of our utility systems. As each day passes, we are restoring your water, sewer, and stormwater systems to achieve best-inclass standards. To accomplish this, we plan to build our workforce to meet our operational, administrative, and  data management needs. We will also establish a robust customer assistance program to ensure that all our rates are manageable for every one of our customers. 
 
Workforce Development
 
We cannot meet our goals without a team of skilled, dedicated public servants in every department. Moreover, we need to develop an adequate private contracting force to complete our projects on time and within our budget. Working with trade unions, recruiters, local educational institutions, and community leaders will all help to build interest in joining our team.
 
Providing clean, reliable drinking water to the community is a truly fulfilling career, and our enthusiastic team of professionals are testament to that. We are also spurring professionals are testament to that. We are also spurring development and growth of local minority women’s and
veterans owned businesses by establishing a new Equal Opportunity Program, adopted by our Board of Directors last month. Outside of our employee base, we must also make sure our contracted workers are meeting our employment standards. We will do this by reviewing contract submissions to ensure our vendors are paying prevailing wages and are committing to equitable hiring and sub-contracting practices. We are committed to an inclusionary workforce throughout our utility.
 
Equitable Afforsbility Programs
 
We are now collaborating with the Public Utility Commission, federal and state government, and regional philanthropic foundations to develop fair and equitable financing plans for our water, sewer, and stormwater improvements. Like many other utilities, the ability for customers to afford the required investments is crucial to achieving the level of service required by the Public UtilityCommission. We need to address the delicate balance between affordability and the level of investment that impacts our rates. We are also developing sustainable options to support our most disadvantaged communities to prevent disproportionate utility cost burdens.
 
One example of this effort is our water usage tracker which is available to all customers via our website. This system helps customers identify leaks within their home before they become costly. PWSA is dedicated to delivering common sense systems that directly benefit our customers. PWSA’s progress to-date has been amazing to see. Everyone is dedicated to Getting Stuff Done every day to improve our organization, our services and your experience. Please let us know how we are doing!
 
The original version of this column appeared in the October 2019 issue of PWSA's "Currents".