This Major City?s Drinking Water Was Fine. Then Came the Private Water Company.

Submitted by JW on Thu, 10/27/2016 - 06:57

Pittsburgh hired Veolia to manage day-to-day operations and provide an interim executive team, helping the utility run more efficiently and save precious public dollars. Under the terms of the contract, Veolia would keep roughly half of every dollar the utility saved under its guidance.

Under the leadership of Jim Good, a Veolia executive serving as interim director, PWSA began making sweeping changes?and they seemed to be working: Within a year, call waiting times for concerned customers dropped by 50 percent. Thanks to new fees for commercial buildings, new customers, and other assorted changes, the utility saved $2 million.

According to a 2013 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Veolia changed PWSA's culture, too: Instead of traditional top-heavy management, Good checked in with employees over pizza and burgers every week. At a staff barbecue in 2012, "I told them that we were there to work with the employees as their partners," he later told the Post-Gazette. "I provided assurances that there wouldn't be any layoffs and that together we could achieve anything."

But by the end of 2015, the utility had laid off or fired 23 people?including the safety and water quality managers, and the heads of finance and engineering, according to documents obtained through a Right-to-Know request. The PWSA laboratory staff, which was responsible for testing water quality throughout the 100,000-customer system, was cut in half. Stanley States, a water quality director with 36 years of experience at the utility (employees referred to him as "Dr. Water") was transferred to an office-based job in the research department. Frustrated with the move, he retired.