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Some state dollars may be trickling into the city to help residents replace their lead pipes, but the funding is a drop in the bucket compared to how many of those pipes need replaced.

Racine Common Council members voted to lend the Racine Water Utility $500,000 to help Racine property owners replace their lead service pipes. The $500,000 will help about 200 homeowners. But the city has about 9,500 lead services to replace in the public right of way. A new law will require homeowners to replace their private pipes when the city replaces its pipes in the public right-of-way.

Through a forgivable loan program through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the city will be rebated the $500,000. Once the money runs out in 2017, however, there is no anticipated local, state or federal funding. In total, the city and property owners will likely spend $70 million over the next 15 years.

Some Property Owners May Be On The Hook

Keith Haas, director of the Water and Wastewater Utilities, told the Common Council on Tuesday that he expects the project to cost $45 million for the city’s portion and $25 million for private property owners over the next 15 years. The Public Service Commission will not allow the Racine Water Utility to pay for the private property portion of the project, Haas explained.

“So that will be something cities and future councils will have to deal with across the country,” he said. “And hopefully money will come from Congress or states. Or private property owners might be forced to pay for this as they sell their homes in the future.”

The U.S. EPA — in response to the water crises in Flint, Michigan — is expected to write a rule requiring cities and private property owners to remove any  lead service pipes over next 15 years.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan — which saw 1,000s of children suffer from lead poisoning — has heightened the state’s vigilance about the issue of having high levels of lead in water. Lead is known to cause physical and mental impairments in adults and children, according to a story by the New York Times.

Recent lead tests have shown that the water leaving the treatment plant is “virtually lead-free,” according to a press release from the city of Racine.

But lead enters drinking water as a result of corrosion in lead service lines and in older household plumbing. To combat the problem, the city has treated the water with ortho-phosphate. The additive minimizes the corrosiveness of those pipes and this is why the city’s lead levels have been so low, Haas said.

How The City Will Administer The Funds

At the Common Council meeting held Tuesday, Alderman Q.A. Shakoor asked how the money would be used.

The utility is working with the City’s Public Works Department to coordinate the projects. When they replace roads, the water utility replaces the pipes in the city’s right-of-way. The next project includes repaving five blocks of Cleveland Avenue next year and it has 118 lead services. Those homeowners were notified that their private lead services would be replaced and that the grant program would be made available to them.

That project is expected to begin in October.

“We are trying to go where we are already doing lead service replacements,” he said.

Upcoming projects include repaving Douglas Avenue between Gould and Hamilton streets, and Douglas Avenue to Main Street. But those projects won’t be starting for another year or two, Haas said.


Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.