Detroit Water Department Creates $100M Fund to Replace Lead Pipes in City

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it has amassed a $100 million fund via state and federal grants that will provide for the replacement of an estimated 80,000 lead service lines in the city — at no additional cost to its customers.
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plumber replace lead pipes by plastic pipeline by health danger
The Detroit Water and Sewage Department will replace approximately 80,000 lead service lines in the city at no additional cost to customers. // Stock Photo

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it has amassed a $100 million fund via state and federal grants that will provide for the replacement of an estimated 80,000 lead service lines in the city — at no additional cost to its customers.

Lead service lines are what carry treated water from the public water main to the house. The Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, the most stringent in America, requires all lead service lines to be replaced over the next 20 years. Detroit houses built before 1945 likely have a lead service line unless the pipe was replaced in recent years.

“Annual testing shows the water leaving the treatment plants is well within state and federal safety guidelines,” says Gary Brown, DWSD director. “While there is no evidence to suggest lead service lines are a contributor to elevated blood lead levels in Detroit, they do pose a risk. As part of DWSD’s commitment to safe drinking water, we will eventually replace all residential lead service lines in our city.”

Brown says that the influx of funding means DWSD will be able to ramp up its current program from 700 replacements per year to at least 5,000. Currently DWSD replaces lead service lines while on the same street replacing the water main. The additional funding will enable the utility to replace individual service lines outside of DWSD’s capital improvement program.

The cost of residential lead service line replacement, which requires excavation at the curbstop valve and uses the boring method to install the new line to the home, can be more than $10,000 per house due to inflation. The $100 million fund is expected to be able to replace service lines at a rate of about 5,000 per year over the next three years. Brown said DWSD will use predictive modeling, confirmed service line data, and residents who place their home on the wait list to cluster replacements by council district to make efficient use of the dollars.

The $100M for Detroit’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program is as follows:

  • $75M American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds through Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).
  • $10M Michigan Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (DWSRF).
  • $5M Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WIIN grant.
  • $10M DWSD Capital Improvement Program.

Brown said that much more revenue will be needed to replace all the estimated 80,000 lead service lines in Detroit and his staff is currently pursuing additional funding sources.

While on the street replacing the water main, DWSD has 100 percent compliance with residents or adult occupants allowing it to replace the full lead service line since access to the home is required. This is largely due to a comprehensive community outreach effort that begins at least 40 days in advance of construction.

How it works — Detroit’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program
In 2018, prior to the revised Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, DWSD began replacing lead service lines as part of its capital improvement program when on the same street replacing the water main. Extensive outreach, including neighborhood meetings and information packets, to the owner/occupant is done prior to construction.

The city is responsible for the existing portion of the service line from the public water main to the curbstop (turn-on/off valve typically in the front yard). The property owner is responsible for the service line from the curbstop to inside the house. Prior to a service line replacement, contractors excavate the curbstop to visually verify the pipe material. Lead and galvanized pipes are replaced with copper.

When a lead service line is verified, DWSD gets owner or adult occupant permission (including tenant) to replace the full lead service line, including the private portion and get access to connect it to the home plumbing through the water meter. DWSD warranties the work for one year before the property owner resumes ownership of their portion. Under this program, there is no cost to the property owner to have the pipe replaced.

The DWSD lead service line replacement program is featured in this video.

Residents are encouraged to watch this video to determine if you have a lead service line and put yourself on a wait list for replacement here.

Addressing contractor capacity and equity
To increase contractor capacity and equity, and utilize the $100 million for lead service line replacement, DWSD has been actively engaging with potential contractors across the city, state and even surrounding states to support this goal. And, the department will continue to ensure contractors comply with Mayor Duggan’s Executive Order on 51% of the hours worked need to be Detroit residents.

DWSD’s Opportunity and Inclusion Director Tiffany Jones looked at contractors that have already completed work on similar programs, including Benton Harbor, Eastpointe, and the City of Detroit Basement Backup Protection Program. So far, she organized 10 meetings, representing 28 organizations. The meetings provide an overview, including the procurement process, and allow the opportunity for contractors to ask questions.

DWSD has committed to breaking up the bids in various amounts to allow for smaller contractors to be the primary bidder. The bids will be posted in the next few weeks here.

Extensive community outreach
A nine-page information packet with a folder was created specific to the Detroit lead service line replacement program that has a notice, frequently asked questions, flushing information and homeowner/occupant agreement to authorize replacement of the private portion of the lead service line. Extensive community outreach and education are done to ensure residents are aware of the program and know the process from start to finish. The packets are hand delivered to the house, not mailed.

Community meetings in advance of construction are held in a nearby median, vacant lot, church, or virtually.

A pitcher filter and cartridge are also delivered to all houses on the street of the water main replacement as a precautionary measure, and for individual lead service line replacement. This action was initiated in 2017 after the Flint water crisis. Pitcher filters were chosen since homes have different faucet fixtures. The filters are the type that are designed for lead reduction.

The facts about lead in drinking water
The water leaving Detroit water treatment plants, operated by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), does not contain lead, but lead can be released into drinking water from lead service lines and home plumbing as the water moves from the water mains to your tap. Beginning in 1945, Detroit stopped allowing the installation of lead piping for water service lines. Homes before 1945 are most likely to have a lead pipe that connects the home to the water main, known as a lead service line. The lead in lead service lines, household plumbing and fixtures can dissolve or break off into water and end up in tap water. The water provided to DWSD customers contains a corrosion inhibitor to reduce leaching from lead service lines and other lead components, but lead can still be present in water at the tap.

“We know that the number one source of lead poisoning in children is decaying paint and dust in homes that were constructed prior to 1978,” said Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair Razo.” The Detroit Health Department can help, with education on how to reduce lead exposure in homes, and referrals to get children tested. If anyone has any concerns regarding lead exposure inside their home, I encourage you to request a lead test from your child’s primary healthcare provider or contact the Detroit Health Department.”

Steps to reduce exposure to lead in your water

  • Run your water to flush out lead. The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. Therefore, if your water has not been used for several hours, run the water before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes. If you do not have a lead service line, run the water for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature. If you do have a lead service line, run the water for at least five minutes to flush water from both the interior building plumbing and the lead service line.
  • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  • Use only filtered water or bottled water for preparing baby formula.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead levels. In the event DWSD issues a boil water advisory due to low water pressure (such as caused by a large water main break), water users in the designated advisory area will be advised to boil water before using for cooking, drinking and brushing your teeth. Residents with lead service lines should only boil filtered water — not water directly from the tap.
  • Consider using a filter to reduce lead in drinking water. The Detroit Health Department recommends that any household with a child or pregnant woman use a certified lead filter to reduce lead from their drinking water. Look for filters that are tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for lead reduction.
    Some filter options include a pour-through pitcher or faucet-mount systems. If the label does not specifically mention lead reduction, check the Performance Data Sheet included with the device. Be sure to maintain and replace the filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality.
  • Get your child tested. Contact the Detroit Health Department at 313-876-0133 or your healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead if you are concerned about exposure.
  • Identify older plumbing fixtures that likely contain lead. Older faucets, fittings, and valves sold before 2014 may contain higher levels of lead, even if marked “lead-free.” Faucets, fittings, and valves sold after January 2014 are required to meet a more restrictive “lead-free” definition but may still contain up to 0.25 percent lead. When purchasing new plumbing materials, it is important to look for materials that are certified to meet NSF standard 61.
  • Clean your aerator. The aerator on the end of your faucet is a screen that will catch debris. This debris could include particulate lead. The aerator should be removed monthly to rinse out any debris.
  • Test your water for lead. To request for your water to be tested, please visit detroitmi.gov/leadsafe and search “lead and copper sample request form.” If you do not have Internet access, please call the Detroit Lead Safe Resource Line at 313-267-8000 and press option 7 for further assistance.
  • Add your home to the DWSD Lead Service Line Replacement Program wait list once you visually verify you have a lead pipe coming into your home from the water main. Go to detroitmi.gov/lslr.