Detroit to Save $165M Using Tech to Identify Lead Pipes

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it will save an estimated $165 million by using BlueConduit’s predictive modeling to determine lead service line inventory in the city and meet state regulations.
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The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will save $165 million using BlueConduit's predictive modeling for lead pipes. // Courtesy of DWSD
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will save $165 million using BlueConduit’s predictive modeling for lead pipes. // Courtesy of DWSD

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it will save an estimated $165 million by using BlueConduit’s predictive modeling to determine lead service line inventory in the city and meet state regulations.

BlueConduit is a water infrastructure analytics and consulting firm that uses machine learning and data to help cities optimize lead service line inventory. The effort was funded by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

It will allow the city to meet the January 2025 deadline of providing a complete distribution systems material inventory to EGLE as required for all Michigan cities and townships with lead service lines and inform planning for Detroit’s projected $450 million lead service line replacement program.

DWSD will excavate 384 stop boxes rather than more than 300,000 by utilizing BlueConduit’s predictive modeling, which will use the data from those boxes to predict probable location and amounts of lead service lines. The stop box is the on/off valve outside that attaches to the service line that brings treated drinking water from Detroit’s water system to the home or business.

The $165 million estimated expense to excavate all 300,000 water service lines to verify pipe material would otherwise be passed along to Detroit water customers through a likely rate increase.

“Every decision we make at DWSD keeps affordability in mind,” says Palencia Mobley, deputy director and chief engineer at DWSD. “This partnership with BlueConduit and the funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and EGLE allow us to have mapping of probable lead service line locations for planning and regulatory reporting, without digging up every service line in the city of Detroit, which would have likely increased water rates to pay for the work.”

Michigan’s revised lead and copper rule was enacted in June of 2019 and is the most stringent in the country. It requires that all water utilities and municipalities must replace all lead service lines within the next 20 years.

It also requires the providers to create a complete distribution systems material inventory by January 2025, which they are encouraging the use of predictive modeling for to avoid the excavation of every stop box in the state.

“Environmental lead — in the houses where too many of us live, in the air that too many of us breathe, in the water that too many of us drink — has been known as an environmental scourge for decades,” says Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit program.

“And despite a great deal of work to address the issue, there remains much to be done. We are proud to do our share to support this innovative effort by DWSD and BlueConduit to advance the goal of replacing all lead service lines in the city by 2040.”

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