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SB3080 White Paper

Thursday, May 10, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laurie Dougherty
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Op Ed from John Donahue

Managing Lead Service Lines in Illinois

 

May 9, 2018

 

By John Donahue CEO, North Park Public Water District

 

Shortly following the alarming news from Flint, Michigan, David LaFrance the CEO of AWWA released an Op Ed in March of 2016 calling for the elimination of lead pipes in drinking water distribution systems by stating “Our communities will be safer with no lead pipes in the ground”.  

 

Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency has been working with industry stakeholders to develop revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule that would likely include specific language as to how lead water service lines should be eliminated and by when. This rule, by their own admission, has taken EPA much longer to develop than originally predicted as 2017 came and went without a revision to the LCR being published.

 

However, as time ticked by and with no federal rulemaking to stimulate lead elimination, many state legislators and regulatory agencies have been responding to public pressure by advancing their own lead mitigation requirements to help resolve the issue, and Illinois is among them.

 

On February 15, 2018, Senator Heather Steans (Chicago’s 7th District) introduced SB 3080. The bill would require every community water system in Illinois to develop a plan to remove all lead service lines (including the portion on private property) in Illinois within 10 years of the completion of the plan, create a low-income water assistance program, amend certain provisions of the Public Utilities Act and Environmental Protection Act including requirements for additional language on water utility bills, require utilities to establish an asset management plan and perform an annual cost of service analysis.

  

While water utilities agree, lead in drinking water is bad and should be eliminated, it is very important to understand eliminating all lead service lines (the cost estimated by AWWA to be in excess of $30 billion nationally) will not result in eliminating all lead from drinking water. Considering lead is also found in plumbing fixtures (within homes and businesses) that contain brass/lead components and copper pipes using soldered joints, removing lead service lines will not completely solve the problem, however it is a good start.

 

Water utilities also understand any repairs or maintenance to lead water service lines can potentially cause lead particles to slough off and become suspended thereby decreasing the effectiveness of any corrosion control measures implemented by the utility, which can lead to increased lead concentrations within the home or business for some months. It is this experience that dictates the avoidance of partial lead service line replacement as an option.

 

Consistent with the previous paragraph, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is no longer allowing utilities to replace partial lead service lines. Ownership arguments aside, in the absence of clear legislation regarding lead service line replacement, the IDPH is holding the utility responsible for ensuring the entire lead service line is replaced whenever water main and/or service work is performed using the Lead Poisoning Prevention Code as their rationale. However, to date, IDPH has been reluctant to clearly identify their position regarding lead service line replacement in a written format that would provide Illinois water utilities and their respective governing boards with definitive guidance on the subject.

 

As water utilities, we must realize and accept the inevitability that lead water service lines must be replaced. They pose a public health risk, especially for infants and small children, the public will simply not tolerate. Opposing the development of reasonable programs to remove lead service lines will do nothing but further erode the pre-Flint unshakable public confidence we once held so dear. As David LaFrance so correctly pointed out, “a lack of money or political will or technical resources can never be an excuse to put people at risk”.      

 

Eliminating lead service lines will not be inexpensive or easy, however the first step is agreeing it needs to be done. To be successful, we will need to engage in a partnership with stakeholders which includes, state agencies, legislative officials, customers and special interest groups. Many communities have already proven it can be done using a variety of programs. The City of Rockford has a program that offers zero interest loans to property owners to replace their portion of the water service line and is currently working to obtain a SRF loan to help offset costs for portions of the community who are underserved. Other communities such as Boston, Madison and Lansing Michigan have also developed programs to replace lead service lines in an expedited manner.  

 

It is going to take a toolbox approach to solve the problem. No one solution will fit everyone and utilities should be creative in developing a program that best suits their situation. Some with minimal LSL to replace may choose to simply pay for the entire cost and build the cost into their water rate, while others may offer incentives and/or special financing to customers to share the cost. However we must be mindful to avoid leaving those who are less fortunate behind. All of our programs must have a component that protects those customers who simply cannot afford to replace their portion of the LSL.

 

Affordability is a significant concern as we work to balance the cost of expedited lead service line replacement with other water infrastructure replacement programs. AWWA projects more than $1 trillion during the next 25 years in national spending will be necessary to replace the nations crumbling water infrastructure. In addition, through its annual Water and Wastewater Rate Survey AWWA has also demonstrated that water rates have more than doubled the Consumer Price Index each year since 2008. With significant capital investment on the horizon and water rates growing disproportionately with the CPI, efficient implementation of any lead service line replacement program will be extremely important.   

 

The legislative and stakeholder process is already underway in Illinois. The Illinois Section AWWA has been working tirelessly for several months with those involved in SB 3080 to develop a clear and rational approach to lead service line replacement in Illinois. While much of the bill is still in flux, there are several requirements that are sure to find their way into the final version:

 

·       Water Service Line Inventory. Continued or expedited program to identify the material type of all water service lines in a water system and a public communication program for that information.

·       Development of a lead service line replacement program. This will likely be required to be completed in less than 5 years and probably closer to 3 years.

o   The program will likely include estimated costs, financing plans, affordability and prioritization of high risk areas, access to private property and how to manage uncooperative customers.

·       A deadline to replace all LSL within 20-30 years. While some involved in the discussions have pushed for a 10 year replacement schedule, ISAWWA continues to lobby for a more reasonable timeframe.

 

No one should have to question the safety of the water we provide. With or without regulations or legislation, we should understand our jobs as the water experts in our communities is to protect public health. In this case it means getting the lead out, and we have to have the strength of our knowledge and conviction to be the voice of our customers when convincing our governing boards a lead service line replacement program is necessary.

 

The Illinois Section Water Utility Council will continue to work hard to represent the interest of all utilities in Illinois and your opinion and involvement is most welcome. Should you be interested in participating in the process please contact the Illinois Section office to obtain the Water Utility Council conference call schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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