Lead Water Service Line Replacement A Heavy Burden for Small Towns

By Benjamin Cox on February 6, 2024 at 8:22am

Winchester and several other small towns are in the midst of lead service line replacement.

Winchester Public Works Superintendent John Simmons says that many smaller municipalities are shouldering the burden of doing full lead water line replacement. Illinois is one of three states in the country mandating full lead service line replacement. Municipalities have until 2027 to submit a final plan to the Illinois EPA for a full replacement plan, with final inventory of all the lead lines in a municipality’s water service due on April 15th.

Simmons says the big cost will come to municipal utilities when the work begins: “We have not received any money for it. I don’t know if there is going to be. I’ve heard rumors that there might be grants, but I think most towns are going to have to buckle up and pay for it themselves, which is really going to hurt a lot of small towns. It’s going to be a lot. What we have to do is we have to replace the line all the way up to the property line where we normally do, which is the city’s part. After that, we have to replace the line into the customer’s house. We are not 100% sure how we are going to do that. That part will have to be done by a licensed plumber, and that’s what towns are going to have to pay for.”

Simmons says that a percentage of replacement is mandated under the law per year based on a municipality’s population. Simmons is frustrated because the mandate from the state seems to have a constant moving of the goalposts.

In the meantime, Simmons says Winchester’s water system is in the midst of some major upgrades with some help from grant funding: “We have a water main replacement project coming up that we got help with through the USDA. We are going to replace several water mains, which will help take care of a lot of these lead service line problems but it won’t do it all. It’s scheduled to start this Spring. We will try to replace 10-11 water mains that we’ve had trouble with, and after that, we should be sitting in pretty good shape. We’ll still have the lead and copper issue to deal with. I don’t think we will have really much down time. They will try to replace these mains and reconnect the services as they go. We may run into some down time here and there, depending upon what we’ve got to do, especially if we have to replace this all the way into the customer’s house and if I have to wait on a plumber to get somebody in here to do that work.”

In February of last year, the city of Winchester received both a low-interest loan and a grant totaling almost $3.4 million for the city’s water system improvement.