Sturgeon Bay Among Cities Awarded Money for Lead Pipe Removal

Sturgeon Bay is among 38 cities throughout the state that requested a first-of-its kind program to replace lead service lines on qualifying private properties. Sturgeon Bay Utilities (SBU) will receive $300,000 from the $14.5 million awarded for the program.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” said SBU Operations Manager Cliff White.

SBU has been replacing public lateral lead lines in the city since 1985. This new program will replace the private lead pipes of homeowners.

White said the $300,000 will allow the utility to replace lead pipes in 120 to 150 homes. Work will begin next spring and SBU will have two years to use the money for pipe replacement. He said close to 2,000 homes still have lead pipes.

The DNR conceived the funding program earlier this year following a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the state greater flexibility in allocating loan funds for water infrastructure projects.

DNR initially received approval from the EPA to make $11.8 million available to disadvantaged municipalities to help remove old lead service lines that bring drinking water into homes. However, when the number and size of requests submitted by the June 30 deadline exceeded the initial financing authority, DNR sought and received approval from EPA to increase the funding to $14.5 million, fully funding all municipalities that applied for the first year of the two-year program. Under the program, municipalities determine how to distribute the funds.

The Lead Service Line Replacement Funding program reflects DNR’s commitment to safe drinking water and addresses the financial barriers facing communities where lead service lines continue to deliver drinking water. These service lines extend from the main street pipes owned by local utilities onto private property and into homes.

The City of Milwaukee will receive the largest total, with eligibility for $2.6 million in funding to cover homes, schools and licensed day cares.

Robin Schmidt, DNR environmental loans section chief, said department staff members have just completed meetings with all of the municipalities who applied to assist them in ensuring compliance with applicable federal and state requirements.

Lead service lines were gradually phased out of new construction during the 1940s and ’50s but remain in some areas developed before that time. Lead service lines may deliver drinking water with elevated lead levels at the tap and even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement.

Homeowners are typically responsible for repair and replacement of service lines extending from the public right of way across their property and into the residence while municipal water utilities bear responsibility for replacing the main lines. However, many private property owners are unable to pay for the replacements, which average about $3,000 per home.

Water utilities in Wisconsin are not allowed to expend user rates to pay for work on private property, leaving a gap in the ability to get the lead service lines out. Despite the cost, full replacement of lead service lines is recommended because a partial replacement can increase the amount of lead being released into the water.

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