Michigan cities must begin replacing lead pipes. But who has the cash?

An “unfunded mandate” that is carried unequally

Michigan’s oldest communities, where much of the housing stock is ahead of the lead pipe ban, will be hardest hit by the new regulation.

They are often rural cities or once dense urban centers with high poverty rates and shrinking populations where water rates are already high. Flint with money shortage, for example, had the highest residential water rates in the nation at the time it was poisoned by lead.

Among them:

  • Jackson, where at least 11,339 of the city’s 12,042 utilities need to be replaced.
  • Detroit, where city officials expect to replace 80,000 of the city’s 311,000 service lines. The effort will cost $ 650 million, city officials say.
  • Escanaba, where 4,521 of 5,546 pipes are likely to need replacing.
  • The tiny village of Hesperia, 30 miles northeast of Muskegon, where an estimated 358 of 396 lines need to be replaced.
  • And other communities, large and small.

A high percentage of lead pipes does not necessarily mean that a community’s drinking water is high in lead. In Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit, where, for example, 96 percent of the service lines have to be replaced, lead exceeded the action levels in the last test round. However, many other communities contaminated with lead pipes are well below the current legal threshold of 15 parts per billion. Conversely, some with a low number of lead service lines, such as B. Clare, tested above allowable levels.

Scientists also warn that regular tests are not always a reliable indicator of lead risk, as they only provide a snapshot of a point in time. And how Dr. Hanna-Attisha noted, testing below the legal threshold doesn’t mean water is safe like that Federal government also recognized.

In Jackson, the crews have replaced 244 service lines since work began in 2018. This is a minor step up the city spokesman Aaron Dimick has made compared to “throwing a pebble into a lake.”

Dimick tackled the remaining 11,000+ lines and said, “It will be a big undertaking.”

Earlier estimates The cost of replacing all of these pipes was estimated at over $ 170 million, while Dimick estimated it to be $ 150 million. The city hired a consultancy to analyze payment options for the effort to avoid dramatic interest rate hikes. By combining the replacement of service lines with other required infrastructure upgrades, such as B. Replacing water pipes and roads can reduce costs, Dimick said.

In Grand Rapids, urban water managers expect to spend up to $ 140 million to replace up to 27,000 lines, though the city water manager said he expects to replace more than 24,000. They will also request an extension of the deadline, said Wayne Jernberg, manager of the municipal water system.

Jernberg fears that the sheer volume of replacement labor needed will create labor shortages across the state that make it difficult to finish work on time.

Facing the same puzzle, Escanabas Lampi said he was considering promoting Texan workers who want to escape the region’s summer heat.

The staggering cost figures are also fueling resistance from utilities, who argue they shouldn’t have to pay.

Dismissed a judge in 2019 a lawsuit by water systems in southeast Michigan that challenged the pipeline exchange rule. Plaintiffs, the Great Lakes Water Authority, the cities of Detroit and Livonia, and Oakland County’s Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash alleged that they lacked the legal authority to charge tariff payers to replace privately owned pipelines.

In many communities, only the portion of the line closest to the road is owned by a utility company. However, under the Michigan Rule, utilities must replace all of the line, regardless of who owns it.

City government lawyers say they are preparing for new lawsuits from customers who refuse to pay to replace the lines that run to their neighbors’ homes.

“I still think this will eventually play out at the higher levels of the judicial system,” said John LaMacchia, assistant director of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League.

University of Michigan researchers, in a 2019 Policy Brief urging lawmakers to “proactively resolve legal uncertainty” as to whether utilities can bill tariff payers to replace the private portion of lead service lines, as both Wisconsin and Indiana have done.

However, public health experts counter that every day that Michigan communities wait for their pipes to be replaced is another day of unacceptable health risk. Many communities use anti-corrosion chemicals to keep lead from flaking off old pipes. But it only takes one mishap, said Brandon Onan, director of the state’s pipeline and copper program, to compromise that armament.

“If you don’t want lead in your water,” said Onan, “the only way there is to remove springs.”

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