The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's water treatment plant in Lincoln–Lemington–Belmar. Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource.

Water rates are going up, just not as much as the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) wanted.

The PWSA announced it has reached a settlement in its ongoing rate case before the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that will raise water rates for one year, instead of the three years the authority originally sought. It does not allow the PWSA to raise rates again until 2026.

The terms of the settlement, which were filed on Oct. 30, still have to be approved by a vote of the PUC’s Board of Commissioners.

The water authority had filed for residential rates to rise by 19.6% next year so that the typical residential customer would see their bill for water, wastewater and stormwater go from $86.43 a month to $103.41, a $16.98 increase. Under the settlement, the typical bill will increase by $13.84 or 16% to $100.27 a month, according to figures released by the PWSA.

Commercial, industrial, and health and education customers will see larger increases than residents.

Customers who are in the commercial class — those who own or operate restaurants, stores or who own office buildings and apartment buildings — will see their water bills go up by 19.4%, instead of the 23.7% that the authority originally proposed.

Hospitals and schools will have an increase of 21%, instead of the proposed increase of 25.1%

The largest percentage increase will be borne by industrial users, who will see the cost of their water bill go up by 29.6%, which is less than the 31% originally proposed.

Under the proposed settlement, the new rates will go into effect on Feb. 15, 2024 and will bring in an additional $36 million to the authority annually, not including the Distribution System Improvement Charge, which is a 5% charge on the bill that will go up as the bill rises. Under its three-year rate increase proposal, the authority would have added $141 million to its bottom line.

The 19-page settlement filed with the PUC is followed by 306 pages of appendices, including an 87-page statement from the PWSA as to why the settlement is a good idea.

It also contains a list of agreements made by the PWSA with the opposing parties and more comprehensive low-income assistance programs.

While the PWSA’s original proposal called for three years of increases, under the settlement, it may not file for a base rate increase until 2025 and if it did file for an increase in 2025, it could not go into effect until 2026. However, rates can go up to make up for the loss of the stormwater fee if that is determined to be illegal.

When the authority does file for another rate increase, the agreement also states that it has to include the elimination of the minimum allowance, by which all residential customers are charged for 1,000 gallons of water even if they use less. 

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.