If you live in St. Paul, there is probably a water line that extends from your basement water meter to a stop gate at your curb. You own the entire system, and you are usually required to maintain it yourself. And that connection was put in during one of the few times during the previous 100 years when lead pipe was popular, serving around 26,000 residences in and around St. Paul.
Lead, a frequent but undesirable component of drinking water, is no longer preferred for transportation, but replacing century-old infrastructure has been expensive and challenging. Even publicly-funded attempts to repair such lines come to a halt if a property owner denies the service or simply does not react since they are located on private land.
By the end of the year, St. Paul Regional Water Services aims to replace between 400 and 600 privately owned lead service lines, the majority of them in the nation’s capital, thanks in part to funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. Additionally, property owners won’t be charged for the replacements.
According to Chris Tolbert, a member of the St. Paul City Council and a representative on the regional water board, around 80 lead service line replacements have been finished by SPRWS workers this year up until early July, timed to coincide with roadwork in St. Paul and West St. Paul.
In order to reach more homes, the water company will soon cooperate with both internal staff members and outside contractors.
In less than a year, a 10-year initiative to replace lead pipes will officially get underway. This is only a soft launch. According to Jodi Wallin, a representative for St. Paul Regional Water Services, “at this time, our aim is to ramp up this work to around 1,500 complete replacements in 2023.”
The 10-year plan for St. Paul Regional Water Services, which will specify the kinds of properties to prioritize, is still under development. It would make sense to target places with active roadwork, but you could also target neighborhoods with a lot of lead pipes, houses with young children, and multi-family buildings. Finding federal and state financing partners will be crucial.
The state of Minnesota has access to more than $200 million under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which it will use to remove lead statewide over the next five years, but qualifying for that money will probably be a competitive process.
The water company has a “Lead Free SPRWS page” that features contact information, a map that consumers may use to see if they have a lead service line, and responses to frequently asked concerns regarding the lead program.