By Suzi Warren, Program Associate, US Water Alliance

April 10, 2018

Water utilities are responsible for providing safe drinking water by treating water to regulatory standards, and by maintaining safe water quality through the distribution system. However, there are limits to water utilities’ ability to assure safe water at the tap, since they do not control the quality of plumbing systems within individual property lines. This challenge is one of the many issues raised and discussed in the sixth policy brief of the One Water for America Policy Framework: Reduce Lead Risks, and Embrace the Mission of Protecting Public Health.

The US Water Alliance brought together a panel to discuss lead-in-water issues for the sixth webinar in the series. Gina Wammock, Principal of Lakeview Strategic Services joined Joe Grande, Water Quality Manager of Madison Water Utility, and Caroline Gray, Project Manager at Cooper’s Ferry Partnership to share their expertise on lead challenges.

Gina is the lead author of the policy framework, and gave a thorough outline of the lead-in-water issues facing the US today. Lead is a significant health risk, and there is broad consensus that water should be clean, and removing lead is imperative to this. One of the greatest challenges is not just replacing lead service lines, but identifying where they are, and who is responsible for replacing them.

In Madison, Wisconsin, they began a city-wide lead service line replacement program in 2000. This 10-year project set out to replace all the public and private service lines through mapping, prioritization, and community outreach. To get an inventory from customers of the private service lines in their region, they used surveys with clear instructions and guidance to crowd-source the information. To replace the lead service lines, they utilized several funding mechanisms and awarded $3.8 million in rebates through the City.

In Camden, New Jersey, they faced similar challenges as many other cities around the country with antiquated service lines. Sparked by a national fear of lead-in-water following Flint, Camden decided to address their existing lead service lines. Restricted by limited funding, they set out to create an education campaign in their city. By partnering with the EPA, they were able to distribute materials to their citizens guiding them on how to mitigate their lead risks. They also mailed out over 11,000 magnets encouraging people to let their tap run, as part of a greater Lead it Run campaign.

Communities around the US are dealing with legacy infrastructure concerns and limited funding. Bold leadership, community partnerships, and creative funding mechanisms can all come together to address lead-in-water challenges and make drinking water safer for everyone.

The US Water Alliance worked with more than 40 partner organizations to host 15 One Water for America Listening Sessions. These discussions, which took place all across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders inside and outside the water sector. What we heard from these diverse stakeholders was truly inspiring. Across the nation, people from all walks of life are working to advance sustainable water management. The insights from the Listening Sessions have been synthesized into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water. Together we are calling these ideas and policy solutions the One Water for America Policy Framework.