Utility Makes Progress On Private Lead Pipe Replacements

The Green Bay Water Utility has made a concerted effort to identify all the lead in its system, and provide waterline replacements at no cost to homeowners
Utility Makes Progress On Private Lead Pipe Replacements

A Green Bay Water Utility worker looks over a work site where lead pipes are being removed outside a residence. (Photo by Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

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Natalie Nienhuis no longer has to worry about lead pipe issues in her 1920s bungalow in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Even better, she did not have to pay one cent of the private-side water service replacement costs thanks to efforts by the Green Bay Water Utility.

“My first thought when I received a letter about the funding available was that I hoped it was for real. It’s important to have clean drinking water, but I also knew it was going to be a financial burden to replace the [private-side lead service],” says Nienhuis. “I’m so glad the program was available.”

Nienhuis is among Green Bay property owners who had a private-side lead service line and have taken advantage of funding the Green Bay Water Utility secured for the pipe replacement. Last year, the utility obtained $300,000 from the Green Bay City Council in excess Lambeau Field sales tax funds. This was in addition to the $500,000 the utility secured through the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program, a principal forgiveness program administered by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Administration.

The process to be eligible for the private-side funding requires property owners to follow several steps, including securing three quotes for the work from three prequalified contractors.

“We knew private-side lead service replacement would come at a significant cost. Not only that, we realized it would present a substantial financial hardship to many property owners because many of the affected properties are located in older and lower-income neighborhoods,” says Nancy Quirk, general manager of the Green Bay Water Utility. “That’s why we were so assertive in seeking ways to assist property owners with paying for something so important.”

In late 2016 the utility sent a series of educational letters to property owners with private-side water service identified as being made of lead. To date, 72 of the 163 properties with confirmed lead water lines have taken advantage of the funding and replaced their pipes through the use of preapproved contractors. Another 37 property owners are in various stages of the replacement process.

But the utility faces two remaining challenges. First, prompting the remaining 54 property owners known to have lead service lines to take advantage of the program because funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“The day I received the letter I contacted contractors on the list and arranged for them to come over and provide the required bids,” says Nienhuis. “I didn’t know how much money was available or how quickly people would act on it, so I organized everything quickly.”

The second challenge is determining if lead exists in the private-side water service for about 1,000 of the 35,600 properties the utility serves. The utility does not have records of the type of pipe material used on those 1,000 properties. Accessing those property owners’ water service — typically done by looking at the waterline between where it enters the building and where it connects to the water meter in the property owner’s basement, crawl space or closet — is only about a five-minute process. This is crucial to not only identifying any remaining lead on the private side, but also to secure additional funding through the DNR program for 2018 to help even more property owners pay for their private-side lead service line replacement.

“Obviously, to be eligible for the funding, a property owner has to know what his or her private-side water material is made of. We’ve had a hard time getting into those homes with ‘unknown’ material even though the assessment only requires our service person to access the home for about five minutes,” says Quirk. “But it’s also crucial to know what we’re dealing with to secure additional funding for property owners for 2018. The DNR has changed the eligibility parameters for the 2018 private-side lead service replacement funding and requires us to list all addresses of properties with lead service to even be eligible for consideration for funding. We can’t list an address on the eligibility list if we don’t know what’s inside.”

That’s why the utility sent out letters to property owners. In addition, utility personnel are going door to door in various neighborhoods to see if they can gain access to the homes with “unknown” pipe material; if no one is home, they leave bright blue door hangers behind with the utility’s contact information.

Nienhuis says the process she had to follow to get her lead service line replaced was straightforward and communication went smoothly. The contractor selected to perform the replacement came to the house to conduct an assessment and take measurements and the replacement work was completed in just one day in late February. In spring, the contractor returned to the property to add topsoil and grass seed to the area disturbed during the replacement.

“The whole process was very painless. Of all the work I’ve done around this house and its renovation, this went the smoothest of anything,” she says.  “I can’t say enough how much people need to understand that they don’t want lead pipes delivering their drinking water, especially if they have children or simply care about their health. I worked abroad in Morocco, Haiti and Honduras, and I do not take clean drinking water out of the faucet for granted. This has given me great peace of mind.”


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