If you’re a St. Paul homeowner, a water line likely runs from your basement water meter out to a stop gate at your curb, all of which you own and are typically expected to maintain yourself. And for some 26,000 homes in and around St. Paul, that line was installed during one of a handful of periods over the past 100 years when lead piping was popular.
Lead, a common but unwelcome contaminant in drinking water, isn’t popular anymore when it comes to transporting drinking water, but getting rid of century-old piping has proven both costly and complicated. Those lines sit on private property, so even publicly-funded efforts to replace them hit a standstill if a property owner declines the service or simply refuses to respond.
Fueled in part by federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, St. Paul Regional Water Services hopes to replace between 400 and 600 privately-owned lead service lines by the end of the year, most of them in the capital city. And the replacements will be free-of-charge to property owners.
About 80 lead service line replacements have been completed by SPRWS staff so far this year through early July. In the near future, the water utility will be working with outside contractors in addition to in-house labor, with the goal of hitting more houses.
It’s a soft launch for a 10-year lead pipe replacement project that will begin in earnest less than a year from now. “At this time, our hope is to ramp this work up to about 1,500 total replacements in 2023,” said Jodi Wallin, a spokesperson for St. Paul Regional Water Services, in an email.
St. Paul Regional Water Services is still developing its 10-year plan, which will outline what types of properties to prioritize. Areas where roadwork is underway would be a logical choice, but so would areas where there’s a large cluster of lead pipes, homes with children and multi-family apartments. Finding state and federal funding partners will be key.
Through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the state of Minnesota has access to more than $200 million it will put toward lead removal statewide in the next five years, but applying for that will likely be a competitive process.
The water utility maintains a “Lead Free SPRWS page,” which lists answers to commonly asked questions about the lead program, contact information and an interactive map that shows customers how to look up if they have a lead service line. The website is tinyurl.com/LeadPipeStp2022.