What the EPA’s lead pipe plan means for Greater Cincinnati and NKY

The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans in November to require cities to replace all lead-containing service lines within 10 years as part of the Biden administration’s attempts to eliminate lead in drinking water.

According to the EPA, there are 9.2 million lead pipes in the United States. Lead exposure in children, even in small amounts, can cause a variety of health problems, including hearing loss, learning difficulties, short stature, and more.

Replacing the pipes will cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Greater Cincinnati area. Here’s what you need to know:

How many homes in the Greater Cincinnati area have lead pipes?

According to the Cincinnati Water Works website, none of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works pipes are made of lead. However, many water pipes that connect homeowners’ property lines to their homes are made of lead, especially in older homes.

Jeff Swertfeger, water quality treatment manager for Water Works, said there are 36,500 homes in the Cincinnati area with lead pipes. The utility serves 1.1 million customers in Cincinnati and Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties.

Swertfeger said Water Works has been able to replace 1,200 lines per year through its Enhanced Lead Program. Following the EPA’s announcement in November, the utility expects that number to increase to 3,600 lines per year, or 10% of the region’s lead pipes per year.

“We pay for it,” Swertfeger added, noting that Water Works covers all lead pipe replacement costs.

But customers must give water companies permission to visit their homes to install new pipes, Swertfeger said. “We only get about half the people we contact who are willing to replace their part of the line.”

What about Northern Kentucky?

Sarah Sgantas, communications manager for the Northern Kentucky Water District, said there are about 30,000 lead pipelines within that utility’s regulatory area, which include 300,000 customers in Kenton, Campbell, Boone, Grant and Pendleton counties.

While the NKY Water District does not replace lead pipes, it does help customers reduce their impact by doing things like adjusting pH and using additives in pipe material to prevent leaks. Customers are expected to pay for pipe replacement.

How much does lead pipe replacement cost?

“We’re looking at somewhere in the range of $100 million to $250 million,” Swertfeger said, with the funding coming from the bipartisan 2021 infrastructure bill.

The NKY Water District is currently seeking funding from the same bill to replace lead pipes and complete its inventory of lead service lines. While these funds are being negotiated, customers will continue to be expected to pay for their own pipe replacement.

Who is paying?

The cost of replacing lead pipes will fall on public water systems, with the Biden administration providing money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to fund the project.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is using every tool available to help communities and water systems take the lead – including investing a historic $15 billion through the bipartisan infrastructure bill to replace lead utilities, technical assistance to communities “To provide and support the development of a national inventory of leading service lines,” said a Nov. 30 press release.

How do I know if there are lead pipes near my home?

Cincinnati Water Works and NKY Water District customers can visit the Water Works website or the Northern Kentucky Water District Take Action page to learn how to deal with lead pipes.

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