Chicago Plans to Replace Lead Water Pipes

(UC) — Chicago water management officials say they are working on a plan to replace the lead service pipes that connect more than 350,000 homes to the city’s cast-iron street mains, but it is not clear how the massive program will be funded.

Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner estimated in August that it could cost upwards of $8 billion to replace all of the pipe.  The city previously made homeowners foot the bill for replacement.

Chicago has more lead service lines than any other city in the country, officials say, because its plumbing code required the use of lead to connect homes to street mains until 1986, when the practice was banned by an act of Congress.

Last year, the city halted a program of installing residential water meters, because it discovered the process sometimes caused more lead to get into the water.  Many Chicago residences have unmetered water service and are billed for estimated usage.

Chicago’s lead-pipe issues have been known for decades.  The city tried applying chemical additives to its water supply to form a protective coating inside lead pipes, but a federal study in 2013 determined the coating breaks down under certain conditions.

The growing focus on lead water pipes in Chicago comes as residents of another Midwestern city negotiated a settlement over lead-tainted drinking water.

Michigan agreed to pay $600 million to compensate Flint residents whose health was damaged by lead-tainted drinking water after the city heeded state regulators’ advice not to treat it properly. That deal still must be approved by the federal judge overseeing lawsuits against the state.

Flint switched its water source from the city of Detroit to the Flint River to save money in 2014, while under control of a state-appointed emergency manager. State environmental regulators advised Flint not to apply corrosion controls to the water, which was contaminated by lead from aging pipes.

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