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Update on Lead Water Lateral Replacements

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First of all, what is a lead water lateral? The Sheboygan Water Utility owns, operates, and maintains an extensive system of water main pipes to serve the City of Sheboygan. These pipes are 4" diameter and larger buried in the streets. Water laterals are smaller pipes (usually I" or less) that connect to the water main and bring water into residences. Water laterals are owned and maintained by the property owner. So a lead water lateral is a small diameter pipe or tubing made of lead that connects to the public water main. Sometimes the word "service" is used synonymously with "lateral."

During 2017, the Utility was required by US EPA to complete lead testing of water in the community. This work involved taking samples from 30 locations throughout the City. All 30 of these locations had full-length lead water laterals. Each location was tested for lead and copper. The test results fulfilled EPA's requirements.

There is no measurable lead in water leaving the water treatment plant. Since 1994, the Utility has used an approved phosphate treatment chemical to reduce leaching of lead and copper in private water laterals. Test results indicate this ongoing treatment is effective in reducing levels of lead and copper in drinking water. Despite the phosphate treatment, low levels of lead can be measured below EPA action levels in homes with lead water laterals and even in some homes without lead water laterals. In the latter case, lead probably comes from old plumbing fixtures and remnant solder.

In order to further reduce lead levels, homeowners can utilize home filtration devices designed for that purpose. Some are as simple as a refrigerator carafe. In addition, routine flushing of water in the morning is a good practice and can further reduce lead levels.

During 2016, the Utility received notice of qualifying for $330,000 in grant monies from WI DNR for the replacement of lead water laterals in the City of Sheboygan. The Utility promptly worked to define its lead water service lateral replacement program.

As with most Wisconsin communities, Sheboygan has a large number of old lead water laterals that connect from the public water mains to individual homes. These laterals are the responsibility of the property owner. Most remain in service until a leak develops or street or water main reconstruction project comes along. Most were installed prior to the 1950's.

The Utility focused WDNR grants on water main projects affecting larger numbers of lead water laterals. As in the past, homeowners received an assessment for the cost to replace their lead water lateral from the water main to the right-of-way line. The cost for replacement from the right-of-way into the home was then entirely covered by the WI DNR grant monies. This typically resulted in a savings of $2,000-$3,000 per property owner. The Utility's largest project was on Broadway Avenue.

The Utility also targeted the grant money at any daycares or schools with an active lead water lateral. The WI DNR program pays full reimbursement of costs at these sites. Only one school building had a lead water lateral in service along with newer ones; this lateral was replaced and reimbursed in March 2017. Five home daycares had lead water laterals still in service, and these were all replaced and reimbursed in late 2016 through 2017.

A number of lead water laterals sprung leaks during 2017. These also qualified for reimbursement of up to $2,500 under the program.

As of the end of 2017, 83 properties had replacement of lead water laterals under the program. This included disbursements of $204,486 for the first full year of the program. The Utility still has access to about $455,000 of WI DNR grant monies. The Utility anticipates spending the bulk of these grants on upcoming water main projects in 2018 and 2019.

The ongoing replacement of lead water laterals is a challenging problem. First of all, only a small number of plumbers currently offer this service. Second, no further grant money is anticipated from the state, meaning future funding is uncertain. Third, the cost to property owners remains high, as a typical replacement ranges from $3,000 to $6,000 depending on local conditions.

The Utility has also increased its efforts to distribute educational literature on lead in drinking water. Since 2016, Utility service technicians have directly presented brochures to 887 residences with an active lead water lateral. Other customers have contacted the Utility for information through its website or by phone.

While the Utility is dedicated to ongoing replacement of lead water laterals, customers must also do their part in recognizing simple ways to reduce possible exposure to lead. For more information on lead in drinking water, visit sheboyganwater.org/lead