New State Rules Bring Expensive Lead Pipe Replacement Guidelines

New stricter drinking water rules are now in place to improve Michigan’s aging and potentially dangerous infrastructure.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Department is holding virtual town halls this week to explain the new Lead and Copper Rule.

But homeowners may have different questions than municipalities.

“I think Flint really sparked the conversation because it was such a massive deal,” says Mitch Foster, Ludington City Manager.

Ludington, like almost every town in Michigan, will be replacing lead water lines over the next two decades but it’s not because they’ve had issues.

“We’ve never had a bad lead test in the testing that we’ve done,” says Foster.

It’s part of the state’s new Lead and Copper Rule. Over a 20 year span, municipalities will have to replace at least 5% of their lead lines every year. For Ludington that will cost about $5 million.

“It’s a big chunk of cash for the city to take on,” says Foster, “We’re looking at $200,000-250,000 a year annually.”

The reason it is going to be so expensive is because over time the city has been replacing lead piping and getting it out of the system. But previous guidelines only meant they had to go to the curb side or the property line, now the new guidelines say they need to go 18 inches into the house. Even lines that they have already replaced, they are going to have to double back and do it again and do it further into the property.

“We’ve always typically, across the state, across the country, maintain the water mains into the curb stops and then it’s the private homeowners responsibility the rest of the way,” says Foster.

The work doesn’t start until 2021 but, before that, communities want clarification.

“There are quite a few lawsuits, or potential suits, out there from municipalities that are wondering how is this such a change going to happen?” says Foster, “Are we supposed to bear all that responsibility and cost?”

While never having an issue the city understands the precaution but it won’t be cheap or easy.

“We want to continue to make sure we never have issues with lead in our water,” says Foster.