Recognizing efforts to replace lead service lines

Communities and states aim to reduce lead in drinking water

EDF is recognizing states and communities 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

  • 17 states Have proactive policies to support community LSL replacement programs.
  • 115 communities Have publicly set a goal of eliminating lead service lines on public and private property.
  • 81 communities Have taken initial steps towards LSL replacement but have not set a public goal.
  • 9 communities Have completed LSL replacement programs.

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 maintains they are 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

Nine 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.

Green Bay, Wisconsin
In October 2020, the Green Bay Water Utility completed replacement of the 1,782 lead services lines on public and 247 on private property in the city. The utility has been replacing publicly-owned service lines since about 1990, but it initiated a concerted effort to accelerate replacements beginning in January 2016. The city passed an ordinance establishing the need to create a comprehensive LSL replacement program and requiring property owners to replace private side lead services within a year of their discovery. The city utilized funding from the Wisconsin DNR and the City of Green Bay through the Lambeau tax refund. Using this funding, the utility was able to complete LSL replacements at no cost to customers.

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 $44.5million. The water utility owns the service line, from the main to the meter, in Lansing.

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 $1,500 – to ease the financial burden.

Medford, Oregon
In June 2016, the Medford Water Commission (MWC) began investigations to locate any remaining lead “pigtails”a static map available to show locations where the water mains are older than 1946. At such locations, MWC checks if the meter box is serviced by a galvanized pipe, which could indicate a high likelihood that there is a lead gooseneck. Where MWC does find a galvanized pipe, it alerts the customer, investigates further to confirm the presence of a leaded line, and replaces it with a copper line. As of January 2017, MWC had investigated over 4,700 meter boxes and removed all 27 lead goosenecks. The utility has removed all known lead goosenecks and will continue to remove any discovered.

Parchment, Michigan
The City of Parchment was required to begin replacing LSLs after changing its source water supply in 2018. The governments of Parchment and Kalamazoo released a map of potential LSLs within Parchment in 2018. The cities identified roughly 240 LSLs within Parchment and the City of Kalamazoo replaced the LSLs using state funding. The project was finished on April 1, 2020.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls, South Dakota began a proactive approach to replacing LSLs in the community in 2016. Previously, the Public Works Water Division had replaced LSLs during water main reconstruction activities. Between 2016 and 2017, the utility removed 230 LSLs and removed the final lead service in August 2017.

Springfield, Massachusetts
In 1992, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission began a proactive program to remove all LSLs from the water system. By November 2005, the Commission had successfully replaced all known LSLs.

Spokane, Washington
In July 2018, the City of Spokane announced that it had replaced the remaining LSLs in the water system, at an approximate cost of $3 million. The program began in May 2016 with the goal of replacing the remaining 486 LSLs with copper pipes – at no cost to homeowners. The Water Department performed replacements as part of other reconstruction projects and sent letters to property owners and tenants to coordinate water meter access for full replacement. Additionally, the City provides an interactive map where interested users can see property information, including service line material information, by searching or selecting addresses and clicking on various layers.

See communities and states working towards LSL replacement.