Lansing State Journal
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Do you own or rent one of the tens of thousands of homes in the Lansing area built before 1950 or a newer one you think could have lead water service lines?
You'll soon be able to say goodbye to your lead service lines. And your water utility will foot the bill.
State rule changes from earlier this year require local utilities to replace all lead and galvanized water service lines between the publicly-owned water main and a resident's water meter by 2040 at an average replacement rate of 5% per year.
Before 1950, many service lines — the small pipes that connect homes and businesses to the larger water mains under the street — were made of lead, which can leach off the pipe and into the water, potentially poisoning users. Galvanized pipes, or steel pipes dipped in a protective coating, also were common and can leak lead from the zinc coating and other harmful chemicals, as decades of water exposure cause corrosion and rust.
According to the latest data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, there are just shy of 45,000 homes in Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties built before 1950. That's about 22% of the total housing stock.
Some Lansing-area municipalities already are in compliance with the rule.
Meridian Township's water infrastructure is fairly new compared to others across the state and has no lead service lines in its distribution system, according to Public Works Director Derek Perry.
And the Lansing Board of Water and Light finished replacing thousands of lead service lines with copper lines in 2016, a 12-year project that cost about $44.5 million. BWL maintains water service lines for Lansing, the city of DeWitt and part of East Lansing as well as DeWitt, Delhi, Delta, Lansing, Bath, and Watertown townships, according to a utility spokesperson who confirmed the service line replacement included all utility customers, not just those in Lansing.
Still estimating time, cost
Other local communities won't have quite as much ground to cover as Lansing did.
For example, East Lansing's Department of Public Works estimates the city will need to replace about 600 service lines before the 2040 deadline, though they expect to complete work before then.
"We don't, at this time, anticipate taking that kind of time," Infrastructure Administrator Ron Lacasse said.
The city is still trying to collect data to determine just how extensive its work will be, he said.
Officials also aren't sure at this time how much the work may cost, Lacasse said.
City crews replaced about a dozen lines as part of a pilot project, and the cost varied greatly, he said, ranging from about $3,500 to more than $8,000.
"Every one of them is dramatically different," Lacasse said.
That's because some of the service lines the city will replace cut through private property. Most utilities, with BWL being an exception, only own the service line from the main to the curb stop, not all the way across a homeowner's yard to the meter.
That can cause issues working around landscaping, especially trees, Lacasse said.
He added the goal is to average somewhere between $3,500 and $4,500 per line overall.
Eaton Rapids doesn't have cost estimates yet, as the city is updating its utilities master plan to try to incorporate line replacement into other projects, City Manager Aaron Desentz said.
He said the city has identified 96 lead service lines — just 3% of all connections in its water system — and is currently working to prioritize them and see which ones it should replace first.
St. Johns doesn't have a full inventory yet, but has some sort of record for at least 70% of properties, city Water Systems Supervisor Justin Smith said.
He said the city is waiting for more direction from the state to build the remainder of the inventory.
Much of the information the city does have has come from a "pretty aggressive" water meter changing program, he said, which has allowed city workers to get into most homes and see whether service lines are lead or galvanized.
"We're pretty limited on lead service lines," Smith said.
That's at least partially due to a policy that led to the city replacing lead service lines any time another project exposed them during the last decade or so, he said.
Is it really free?
While cities can't charge residents directly for the service line replacement, it's possible there will be an indirect cost.
Water funds will cover the replacements costs, officials said.
But local utilities fund water systems through water bills and fees, which could mean replacement costs could prompt rate increases.
"It'll certainly impact the rate calculation," Lacasse said, though he added any increase won't be dramatic.
Are your lines on the docket for replacement?
How will you know if you have lead service lines and can expect your local government to foot the bill for replacing them?
The new rules address that, too. They require cities to have an inventory of service lines and content by 2025.
Once cities determine service line content, they're required to notify you within 30 days. That's led to 175 notification letters so far in East Lansing.
And more people can expect to receive letters as communities complete their inventory.
East Lansing's Department of Public Works is encouraging all community members to either complete an online survey or call the department to request that city staff evaluate their water service line.
Most area communities are still early in that inventory process.
Mason, for example, expects to replace some service lines but has no estimates for either scope or cost at this time, Public Works Superintendent Tom Silsby said.
And Grand Ledge Utilities Superintendent Kurt Ristow said city staff there is undergoing training over relevant information from the new regulations.
Is my water safe to drink?
If you do get a notification letter, that doesn't necessarily mean your water is unsafe to drink.
Take East Lansing, for example — the East Lansing-Meridian Water and Sewer Authority assured community members there is no known current health or safety concern with water services in the city.
“(The department) recognizes the importance of managing water chemistry and treating water to make it less likely that lead will dissolve into the water and we have made no significant changes to East Lansing’s water source or treatment in decades,” Manager Clyde Dugan said in a release. “By controlling the corrosivity of the water, the amount of lead in the tap is kept to a minimum.”
And water quality reports show other distribution systems also have been able to keep the amount of lead in their system to a minimum or even eliminated it altogether.
They generally do that through the use of some sort of phosphate.
Phosphate inhibits corrosion of water mains, service lines and interior lead, which reduces lead and copper leaching, Ristow said.
But residents also should know lead may still exist in their home's plumbing fixtures. Even under the new rules, it's the owners' responsibility to replace those lines.
While lead service lines fell out of use in the 1950s, homes built before 1988 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder inside.
And if you have a well and, therefore, aren't attached to a water main, you would have to replace your pipes and lines yourself.
Do you want to know whether there are unsafe levels of lead in your drinking water?
National standards say any level of lead below 15 parts per billion (ppb) — or about 15 drops of water in a large swimming pool — doesn't require action. But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is lowering that standard to 12 ppb in 2025 for the state.
MDEQ recommends taking action if the concentration in your water is greater than 5 ppb. Public health advocates stress the only truly safe level is zero.
You can contact a certified laboratory about testing. There are three locally:
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