Minnesota city and local water services will ramp up the removal of underground lead water pipes this year, with a slice of the $15 billion provided over the next five years by a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress and President Joe Biden will seek. enacted in November.
Lead service lines deliver water to 10 million American homes—about 7 percent of all homes served by community water services—endangering the health of residents who consume it.
Support for removing lead from drinking water has been growing since 2014, when improperly treated water damaged city pipes and released lead into the Flint, Mich., water system.
Under the new federal program, Minnesota expects to receive $43 million per year for the next five years, Jeff Freeman, executive director of the state Public Facilities Authority, said last week. The authority manages Minnesota’s water project grants and loans.
The Minnesota Department of Health estimated in 2019 that 100,000 lead service lines remain in the state, carrying drinking water to Minnesotans who may not suspect that their water may be contaminated with lead. But the Natural Resources Defense Council said in July that the Department of Health’s estimate covers only a portion of the state, and the council’s 2021 survey estimates Minnesota has 260,000 or more lead service lines, making the state has the 10th largest number of lead pipes in the country. ,
develop a plan
There are 26,600 lead service lines in private property and 9,000 additional lines in public rights in St. Paul and 13 neighboring suburbs, as the St. Paul Regional Water Service reported last week. Replacing all those lines would cost an estimated $223 million, plus an additional $15 million for related road improvements.
Paul’s Regional Board of Water Commissioners voted Tuesday to develop a plan to replace all major water pipes in 10 years. Those pipes would be swapped out for copper or polyethylene lines.
Before the election, Commissioner Chris Tolbert said “this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to address a serious health threat.
The Water Service’s engineering division manager, Dave Wagner, said federal grants administered by state agencies could cover 10 percent of the area’s pipe replacement costs. He estimated the service would receive about $5 million a year in grants and $5 million annually in state-administered loans for the project over the next five years. Water rates may have to be raised to cover part of the cost.
impact on landlords
Water Services general manager Pat Shea said replacing the private lead water pipes would cost the owner of a St. Paul-area property about $6,000. Those property owners will need to replace lead water pipes and fixtures, but members of the Water Service Board said they intend to use some federal money to help property owners with those costs.
The City of St. Paul already allows water customers to pay lead-pipe replacement costs through property taxes over 20 years, but only 5 percent to 10 percent of property owners exercise that option.
State agencies will allow cities to decide whether to spend federal money on private subsidies, said Chad Kolstad, the health department’s drinking water fund manager. But laws may need to be changed to allow subsidies.
The Health Department said that removing the lead pipe would increase the domestic prices. It cited a 2017 study showing that money invested in lead risk reduction results in a return of $2.60 for every $1 spent.
The cost of replacing all major service lines nationwide could range from $28 billion to $47 billion, up from the approved $15 billion that figure so far. The Brookings Institution reported that the infrastructure bill “provides unprecedented support for states to kick-start the process.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead can get into water from pipes, and there is no safe level of lead exposure.
The state health department said children are most vulnerable to health effects from exposure to lead because of their developing brains and behaviour. “For infants and children, exposure to lead can cause significant damage to the brain, nervous system, red blood cells and kidneys,” the department said.
City water pipes are a significant contributor to lead in drinking water, but an even more important factor is lead leaks from plumbing fixtures, which are usually handled by property owners.
The Department of Health has estimated the cost of removing all lead pipe and plumbing fixtures in Minnesota to be $1.5 billion to $4.12 billion over 20 years. But it said the benefits of removing lead from water include “improved population mental acuity and IQ (resulting in lifetime productivity, increased earnings and taxes paid).” It estimated benefits to range from $4.24 billion to $8.47 billion over 20 years. The money thus spent on reducing lead in drinking water would be expected to yield a return of at least twice the amount invested.
a long process
The St. Paul Water Service has been replacing lead pipe for over 25 years, but only about 400 lines a year, and it’s all on the right of way.
Most of the major service lines in St. Paul were installed in homes built before 1927 and a small percentage of homes built between 1942 and 1947.
The Department of Health said most major service lines in Minnesota are located in the Twin Cities and Duluth. It cited reports estimating 49,000 such lines in Minneapolis and 5,000 in Duluth.
But Kolstad said there are more than 1,000 lead service lines in several other cities in Minnesota.
He said that priority for funding would be given to low-income and minority communities as their residents are more likely to be exposed to sources of leadership.