The quest to replace Peoria’s drinking water lead pipes

PEORIA, Ill. (WMDB) – Illinois has an unenviable status as the state with the most lead water pipes in the country, but now the state is leading the way to replacing those pipes.

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, there are nearly 700,000 lead drinking water pipes across the state.

State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) was a co-sponsor of the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires the complete replacement of all drinking water lead lines. The law went into effect on January 1, making Illinois the third state in the nation to do so.

“We want to make sure we remove lead plumbing from serving in communities,” Koehler said.

Some cities might lag behind in replacing lead pipes

According to the Illinois Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group, Illinois ranks above the national average for lead exposure in children. Prolonged exposure to lead can result in lifelong intellectual, emotional, and behavioral problems, stunted growth, anemia, low IQ, and hearing problems.

Illinois American Water controls all drinking water in Peoria. The company is investing $5 million to upgrade 16,000 feet of water main and $950,000 in a new pumping station in Peoria.

Iyana Simba, city program manager at the Illinois Environmental Council, sits on the advisory board created by the new law. She said it’s good to be proactive, like Illinois American Water, as the advisory board develops a long-term plan.

“I think it’s great. I think it speaks to the need to invest more in our water infrastructure systems, not just in Peoria but across the state,” she said.

More than 10,000 drinking water pipes in Peoria contain lead. Koehler said those pipes are in older parts of the city, like the East Bluff neighborhood where he lives.

“I just had a big water eruption on my street. The lead line that ran from the mains to my water meter burst and it was lead. And so I had to dig up the whole street and replace everything… So the newer areas won’t have much of a problem, but the older areas will have a problem,” he said.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $565 million over five years to replace senior service lines in Illinois. But the need is in the billions, Simba said.

“We’re trying to figure out what are the best recommendations for fundraising,” she said.

Koehler said homeowners don’t owe a penny.

“The focus of the bill is to do this at no cost to the homeowner… The homeowner should not be responsible for this. They didn’t put the lead lines in,” he said.

Illinois American Water publishes a water quality report annually. The action level or concentration of lead in water that will trigger a pipe replacement is 15 ppb. According to the 2021 Water Report, four out of every 50 homes in Peoria are above this action level. But in 2019 and 2020, just one in 50 households was above the action level.

But Simba said it might be harmless; It is likely lead leakage from pipes due to ongoing plumbing repairs.

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