Recognizing efforts to replace lead service lines

Communities nationwide aim to reduce lead in drinking water

EDF is recognizing states, communities, and utilities that have publicly announced a goal of replacing all lead service lines in their jurisdiction.

Across the United States, 6 to 10 million homes still get their water from lead service lines (LSLs) – pipes connecting the main drinking water line in the street to our homes. These pipes can unpredictably release lead into drinking water. Corrosion control can help manage the risk, but the most effective long-term solution to protect children is full replacement of all lead service lines. The tragedy in Flint, Michigan put a national spotlight on the problem of lead in drinking water – and states and communities across the country are taking steps to tackle the issue.

What we found

For each of the state and local programs, we highlight progress in areas including enabling funding and supporting transparency. To learn more about how we describe the programs, see our state framework and community framework.

While setting a goal of replacing LSLs is commendable, community members should follow closely to ensure that progress is made towards these goals.

Background on LSL replacement

LSL replacement is challenging due to several factors.

Who owns LSLs on public property (typically called “public side”) and private property (typically called “private side”) varies from community to community, complicating financing of replacement. In some communities, the drinking water utility may be limited in their ability to use public funds to pay for replacements on private property. However, removing only part of the LSL (referred to as “partial LSL replacement”) has been shown to increase lead levels in drinking water in the short term. Full replacement of the entire service line – including portions on both public and private property – is essential.

LSL replacement can be a substantial expense – on the order of several thousand dollars. If property owners are expected to pay for the replacement of LSLs on their property, those without access to funds may not benefit, raising environmental justice concerns. Providing economical and equitable replacement options is critical to protect public health.

Some communities have established programs to coordinate with and provide guidance to homeowners who are willing to finance LSL replacement on the private side.

In addition to the challenges of funding and ownership, most utilities do not have adequate data on the locations of LSLs in the system due to inconsistent recordkeeping. Proactive efforts to locate LSLs and disclose information through public inventories are necessary both to understand the scope of the problem and increase awareness.

The Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative recommends a cooperative, community-based approach to develop a replacement program, identify LSLs, and finance full LSL removal in an equitable manner.

Completed programs

Three communities have taken the lead in developing and implementing successful replacement programs by fully removing LSLs in their communities.

Framingham, Massachusetts
Framingham Water Department launched a comprehensive Lead Service Replacement Program in 2005 and replaced their final LSL in April 2016. For the program, the Town investigated service line material and coordinated with property owners to conduct full LSL replacements.

Lansing, Michigan
The Lansing Board of Water & Light launched a program in 2004 to remove all LSLs in its water system. In December 2016, the BWL removed the last of 12,150 lead service lines at a total cost of $44.5 million. The water utility took ownership of all water service lines, from the main to the meter, in 1927.

Madison, Wisconsin
Madison launched a lead service replacement program in 2001 and finished the removal of 8,000 lines by 2011. To ensure full replacement, the council passed an ordinance mandating homeowners replace privately-owned LSLs. Madison Water Utility offered to pay residents half the cost of replacement – up to $1,000 – to ease the financial burden. In 2016, the water utility raised the reimbursement amount up to $1,500.

See communities and states working towards LSL replacement.