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VP Harris announces $200 million for Pa. water infrastructure during Pittsburgh visit

Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Pittsburgh Tuesday to announce $5.8 billion in additional funding for clean-water projects nationwide.

“One of the most basic and essential resources… is clean water,” Harris said during an appearance at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty. “Clean water. Can you believe that in the United States of America that is still not necessarily guaranteed to all people to access clean water?”

This isn’t Harris’ first visit to the city to tout White House investments in water infrastructure. She visited Homewood in 2022 to tout the $50 billion of funding allocated to such projects from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. But at that time, only a small fraction of the funds had been allocated.

Harris announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania will receive nearly $200 million in this latest disbursement of that money. The majority of that, $99 million, is being allocated for clean water projects, which can go toward things like fixing stormwater drains. And $75 million is being allocated to replace additional lead service lines.

Harris said earlier disbursements helped pay to remove more than 3,000 lead pipes in Pittsburgh since she last visited. The new funding, meanwhile, could also go to replace aging water lines, and for other upgrades.

“Just a few weeks ago in the Hill District, a water main burst and hundreds of people lost water for a full day,” she said. “The $200 million now coming to Pennsylvania can be used to replace old water mains across the state, and also could be used to upgrade storm drains and prevent floods during the heavy rains.

“So when President Biden and I talk about why we do what we do — it is to deliver in a way that is about real results for real people.”

Harris said that Pittsburgh was on pace to replace all of its lead lines in the next 24 months, though that timeline appears optimistic. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board chair Alex Sculli, who was in attendance for the speech, clarified that PWSA has set a goal to replace all of its remaining lead lines by the end of 2026. He said he believes the authority will get very close to meeting that goal.

That would be a marked change from the period between 2016 and 2019, when Pittsburgh’s drinking water exceeded federal health standards for lead contamination, and the PWSA committed then to replacing every lead service line in the city. PWSA says it has already replaced nearly 11,000 public lead service lines but there are still around 6,000 left.

The federal water infrastructure funds are allocated to states to distribute, and in Pennsylvania those funds are distributed through a program called PENNVEST.

PWSA has received more than $61 million in grants and more than $637 million in low-interest loans from PENNVEST since 2018. Most of that funding has come directly from the commonwealth, but President Biden’s infrastructure law has provided $43 million in grants to PWSA and $23 million in low-interest loans.

“Federal funding has allowed us to accelerate the pace of replacements and reduce the burden placed on our ratepayers for this costly construction endeavor,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering.

A number of the Pittsburgh area’s elected leaders spoke before Harris, thanking her, Biden and PWSA for their help replacing lead drinking water pipes.

Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato said PWSA has become a national leader in that effort. “I know parts of the key to their success has been drawing down state and federal dollars to help fund this very expensive, but very vital work,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee said the additional funding is helping to undo a legacy of environmental racism in the country and region, like the ones she’s grown up in. She said there are still schools and daycare centers in the region where the drinking water tests positive for lead.

“This investment is a crucial step we're taking towards making a new reality where there are no more sacrifice zone communities,” Lee said.

Oliver Morrison