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Residents, mayor say notification process isn’t adequate
A pump failure at the McKeesport water treatment plant caused a lengthy outage on Friday night, a spokesman for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County said.
But it wasn’t just a lack of water that had some city residents frustrated — they said a lack of information from the water authority also left them high and dry.
Authority spokesman Matthew Junker told Tube City Almanac an electric motor that drives one of the pumps at the plant failed at about 7:30 p.m.
Crews had difficulty getting a second pump into operation, which caused water pressure to fall, he said.
Residents of higher elevations in McKeesport, Versailles and White Oak experienced low water pressure or no water at all during the interruption, which lasted about 10 hours, Junker said.
Another water service interruption on Tuesday morning caused Serra Catholic High School to dismiss students early. Junker said the McKeesport water treatment plant briefly lost power, which knocked it offline.
The problem was not related to Friday night’s incident, he said.
McKeesport residents this weekend voiced their frustration on Facebook and elsewhere with the water authority’s notification process.
A Leech Street resident told Tube City Almanac he called the water authority repeatedly Friday night and Saturday morning and got no response.
“Useless,” he said. “They won’t answer (their) emergency line.”
As of Saturday morning, the Leech Street man said, the most recent update on the water authority’s website was about a water main break in Greensburg on Aug. 27.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said city officials also were left in the dark.
“The mayor can’t get answers either,” he said. “There was little or no information provided to my office. They didn’t give us a timeline, they didn’t give us an official call, or anything.”
Cherepko said he learned of Friday’s outage from the McKeesport fire department.
The water authority reports outages to the Allegheny County 9-1-1 center and on the Region 13 Knowledge Center, an electronic network for emergency management agencies, Junker said.
“If we post to Knowledge Center or call 9-1-1, that not only should be adequate, it needs to be adequate,” Junker said. “We have limited staff that has to be directed to fixing the problem at hand.”
During overnight hours, only one person at the water authority is available to post information about service interruptions, he said. “They also have to call out crews and do other things, and if there’s a sudden influx of calls, they can get behind,” Junker said.
If there had been a large-scale problem that was not going to be rectified soon, the authority would have called in additional personnel to notify the public, he said.
“We are glad to work with the city and if they have concerns, we’ll listen to them,” Junker said.
The water authority is planning to replace the intake equipment at the McKeesport treatment plant within the next two years, if funding permits, he said.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 04, 2020.