Milwaukee significantly behind in project to replace 1,100 lead pipes by end of year – Great Lakes Now

By Matt Martinez, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, through the Institute for Nonprofit News network

The city is well behind on its goal of replacing 1,100 lead pipes by the end of the year, which will be exacerbated in part by the ongoing pandemic, Milwaukee officials say.

Only 333 lines had been replaced as of August 10, said Milwaukee Water Works superintendent Karen Dettmer.

The lead service exchange project began four years ago after officials found an unsafe number of lead side pieces or service lines connecting the water pipes to homes and businesses.

The lead from these pipes is leached into tap water and can have harmful effects on those who drink it, especially developing children.

The project is replacing lead pipes with copper pipes.

During a July 15th meeting of the Public Works Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council, Ald. Milele Coggs said the replacement rate is too slow. Coggs called for more options for residents.

“My goal is to get to a point where you don’t have to wait for the material to break in order to replace your lead side panels,” said Coggs.

Dettmer said her department was uncomfortable sending workers out at the beginning of the pandemic because so much was unknown about the virus at the time. Officials, she said, did not want to endanger workers or local residents.

Replacing the lines requires multiple people to enter a home or business.

Because of the risk of exposure, Dettmer said some residents did not want workers to enter their homes.

While the pandemic slowed the program, Dettmer said workers in daycare centers that were closed during the shutdown have made significant strides.

“It’s not an easy answer when it comes to driving the lead service line exchange,” said Dettmer. “If we had an infinite amount of money, that would be a much easier answer.”

Dettmer said the price of replacing lead service lines has increased and the city’s budget will face constraints going forward.

Dettmer proposes a new plan that evenly distributes tax rates to fund service line replacement. She said 300 water pipes in the city will be replaced this year.

With 70,000 senior service lines in the city, it would take approximately 70 years for the program to achieve its goal.

It’s too long for Robert Penner, a member of the Get The Lead Out coalition. The coalition consists of residents and community organizations.

Penner cited Lansing, Michigan, as the “gold standard” for lead exchange. He admitted that it is a smaller city than Milwaukee. Lansing had to replace 12,150 pipes versus Milwaukee’s 70,000.

“We see that as absolutely unacceptable,” said Penner. “We have seen in other cities that this type of project can be done in a few years.”

This article, first published in the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, is republished here by Great lakes nowMembership in the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of more than 200 not-for-profit newsrooms in the United States, works to strengthen the sources of trusted news for thousands of different communities.

Read more about lead and drinking water on Great Lakes Now:

Court: Flint class action lawsuit can be fought over lead in water

Drinking Water News Summary: Pittsburgh, NY Guided Tour, Electricity Protection Act

The Buffalo City Poisoning Plan results in key elements missing

Featured image: Milwaukee’s lead service exchange project began four years ago after the city found an unsafe number of lead side panels or service lines. (Photo from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service by Jabril Faraj)

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