It is a problem that has plagued many communities since the 1950s, but the Green Bay Water Utility on Tuesday removed its last city owned lead pipe in the water service. This was the end of a years-long effort to improve water quality for residents.
Officials announced the milestone at a news conference Tuesday before removing an east-side lead service line and replacing it with a copper pipe. That marked the 1,782nd utility-owned line replaced since January 2016, when the utility ramped up lead removal amid the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.
That crisis brought mass attention to the issue of lead pipes still existing in a multitude of communities and the problem that brings with it.
Lead water pipes can leak lead into the drinking water and if the situation deteriorates enough that can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause a series of ailments from abdominal pain to memory loss, kidney and brain damage. It also can have serious effects on pregnancies, and result in neurological effects and intellectual disabilities, according to health experts at the CDC as well as Health Canada.
But thanks to their efforts, the utility’s General manager Nancy Quirk has stated that their lead levels are way down. Green Bay last installed lead pipes in 1944, and began replacing them in 1990, when the city had over 4,400 lead pipes. In 2011 they had spikes in levels over the limit that the EPA had set. At that time they still had 1,782 utility-owned and 247 privately owned service lines that needed replacing. Now? Quirk said the utility has eliminated all but one privately owned lead pipe.
The final line goes through a home pending foreclosure and will be replaced once it belongs to the bank. This wasn’t a cheap or easy exercise either, the utility spent over $6 million to replace the city’s remaining lead service lines, in part through two rate increases over the five-year period. The initiative also got a boost from the Lambeau Field tax credit and loans from the state Department of Natural Resources. It cost a lot. But aside from the rate increases, homeowners with lead lines were not required to pay for a replacement.
It’s not something that occurred on it’s own, “We made it happen,” Quirk said. She believed it was important to remove the source of the lead entirely instead of using a chemical treatment, which she feared could increase phosphorus levels in the Fox River. The utility also flushes the system to keep water clean and will monitor copper levels to ensure the new pipes don’t cause any problems.
That they cared enough about the wellbeing of the residents of Green Bay to go through this costly and work intensive effort is your Good News Story of the Day, which you can find here.
But it is also an example of how a community can care for itself and the environment around it. Green Bay’s situation is not that dissimilar to Brantford’s, lead was used as a material for water pipes until 1975 in Ontario, and in solder used to join pipes until 1986. The Grand River is at risk from chemical treatments, and the people in century homes are at highest risk of having lead water pipes.
If you are concerned about lead in your pipes in Brantford there are certain locations that this is an issue. To find out more go to brantford.ca. But the issue primarily affects homes built before 1955 in the designated area on the Lead Pipes in Brantford Map:
There is also the City of Brantford’s Lead Financial Incentive Program, which includes a grant of up to $1,000 to help with the cost of replacing lead sections in your water service. They also offer a loan of up to $3,000 for eligible work. You can apply for Lead Financial Incentive Program online and make sure to include at least one quote from a City of Brantford licensed contractor.
The good news is that Green Bay has proven a community can fix this problem if they are dedicated to it.
Story and Image from The Green Bay Press Gazette.