Water Leaders Explore Lead Line Replacement Strategies

May 7, 2016

More than 100 water utility leaders from throughout the United States and Canada gathered Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to share strategies for removing the lead service lines that connect millions of older homes to water mains.

Hosted by the American Water Works Association, the event took place during Drinking Water Week, an annual observance focusing on water quality and supply issues.

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A March 2016 study published by AWWA estimated some 6.1 million lead service lines remain in the United States, serving approximately 7 percent of the population. In most communities, portions of the lead service lines are owned by the water utility and portions are owned by the customer.

AWWA recently announced its support for 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 for Tuesday’s panel discussion.

Event panelists included John Sullivan, chief engineer for Boston Water and Sewer Commission; 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 that BWSC has an online database that allows 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 to 48 months to assist homeowners willing to remove the portions of lead pipes on private property.

Bailey stressed that 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 explained that education and financial assistance is critical in removing lead service lines, noting that many water customers in his service area are reluctant to spend money on replacing lines that are buried and out of sight. Halifax has, however, had success working with customers over extended periods, he said.

Roost noted that 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.

Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.

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