Veolia works closely with municipalities across North America to help them achieve their goals for managing resources and promoting renewable energy, including our partnership with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). Recently, there have been claims on the digital news outlet Intercept.com that the partnership has been detrimental to both the Authority and the people of Pittsburgh. We feel strongly that these claims need to be refuted in the interest of truth and fairness, and to provide proper background and context on the issue of water quality in Pittsburgh.
- In response to the article’s attempt to link the situation in Pittsburgh to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., it is important to note that in Pittsburgh as well as Flint, Veolia had a brief, limited role. In Flint, the company’s contract lasted only a month and was tasked with addressing specific issues involving TTHM, color and odor and not lead. In Pittsburgh, the company served as a consultant for three years (including two renewals), and the Pittsburgh Sewer and Water Authority was very pleased with our work until after our contract ended and it was time to pay the balance due. “Our partnership with Veolia has improved the day to day operations of the utility resulting in significant cost efficiencies and improved customer service,” said Alex Thomson, PWSA Board Chairman. “Veolia has provided stable leadership to PWSA and is helping us develop a plan to prepare the utility for the difficult challenges it faces in the future. We appreciate Veolia’s continued assistance to the utility in addressing these challenges.” (PWSA Board Chairman Alex Thomson, PWSA press release, Nov. 14, 2014.)
- It is clear the article deliberately sought to mischaracterize Veolia’s role in Pittsburgh. Veolia served as a consultant to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), providing only three of PWSA’s 250 total employee positions, and Veolia’s scope of authority was limited. As background, it is indisputable that PWSA’s infrastructure and organization were in poor condition long before the Board of the PWSA hired Veolia — the result of decades of financial and operational mismanagement. PWSA Board members said as much: “Veolia’s not responsible for the lead issue PWSA has — these lead issues are the result of the fact we have 75- to 100-year-old infrastructure.” (PWSA Board Chairman Alex Thomson, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 12, 2016.)
- Also of importance: concerns about lead in the water occurred after PWSA employees, without Veolia’s knowledge, changed the chemicals designed to prevent corrosion and did not disclose this information to Veolia for months. An investigative report by WPXI concluded that the chemical change was directed by a PWSA employee and not shared with Veolia for months. This is documented and the PWSA has admitted to it.
- The PWSA, through its Board of Directors, retained decision-making authority about all investment decisions regarding equipment and infrastructure. Veolia would never recommend delaying important capital projects or cutting costs at the expense of water safety. Any suggestion to the contrary demonstrates a lack of understanding of the working relationship between PWSA and Veolia, and is patently false.
- Contrary to claims that Veolia’s participation in the management of the system led to increased water rates, the company actually helped mitigate rate increases through operational efficiency and financial controls that helped the Authority address its $800 million debt level.
- In addition, the portion of the story about Veolia’s involvement in Flint fails to note that in the course of conducting its work, the company alerted the city to the potentially corrosive water conditions. This observation was raised with city officials. Yet Veolia was told by city officials to keep its focus to the subject that Veolia was hired to review.
Veolia is proud of its record of delivering quality environmental and energy resource services to communities across North America, including Pittsburgh. In every community we serve, the safety of our customers always comes first.