Approximately 7% of U.S. population serviced by lead lines
More than 100 water utility leaders from throughout the United States and Canada gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to share strategies for removing the lead service lines connecting millions of older homes to water mains.
Hosted by the American Water Works Assn. (AWWA), the event took place during Drinking Water Week, an annual observance focusing on water quality and supply issues.
A March 2016 study published by AWWA estimated some 6.1 million lead service lines remain in the United States, serving approximately 7% of the population. In most communities, some portions of the lead service lines are owned by the water utility and customers own other portions.
AWWA supported the U.S. National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s recommendation to remove lead service lines nationwide over time.
“This issue is both complicated and solvable,” AWWA CEO David LaFrance said in his opening remarks of the panel discussion.
Event panelists included John Sullivan, chief engineer for Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC); Cathy Bailey, director of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works; Reid Campbell, director of water services for Halifax Water in Nova Scotia, and Randall Roost, principal planner of water operations for the Lansing (Michigan) Board of Water and Light.
Sullivan explained BWSC has an online database for homeowners to search by address to determine if their property has a lead service line. BWSC offers a credit of up to $2,000 and interest-free loans for 48 months to assist homeowners willing to remove the portions of lead pipes on private property.
Bailey stressed Greater Cincinnati Water Works has expanded its outreach on lead, including the addition of a new lead website, a lead hotline, social media outreach, direct letters to more than 20,000 customers, a speaker’s bureau and the distribution of pitcher filters to homes thought to be at higher risk.
Campbell said education and financial assistance is critical in removing lead service lines, noting many water customers in his service area are reluctant to spend money on replacing lines buried and out of sight. Halifax has, however, had success working with customers over extended periods, he noted.
Roost added the Lansing Board of Water and Light is in the unusual position of owning lead service lines in their entirety. This has allowed the utility to reduce the number of lead service lines from 13,500 to 436 in 12 years. The project has cost about $42 million, covered entirely through customer rates.
Video from the panel discussion will be available at the end of May.