In Wake of Water Crisis, Michigan Aims to Replace All Lead Pipes Within 20 Years

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Michigan Lead Pipes
Gov. Rick Snyder once criticized the current federal lead threshold of 15 parts per billion as “too weak.” (AP file photo)

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in is talks to launch a plan that would mandate the replacement of every underground lead pipe in Michigan within the next 20 years.

Under draft rules proposed by environmental regulators early last year, the state’s “action level” for drinking water would steadily drop to 10 parts per billion by 2024, the Associated Press reported. Snyder once blasted the current federal threshold of 15 parts per billion as “too weak.”

In addition, officials plan to give communities 20 years to replace more than 500,000 lead service lines in a state that houses the third-most in the nation. The proposal comes amid the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich., caused by lead leaching from old pipes and fixtures after city officials switched its water source to the Flint River in April 2013. As a result, the exposure caused elevated lead levels in children, and forced thousands of residents to rely on bottled or filtered water.

Snyder has since apologized for his administration’s role in the contamination crisis, as residents weren’t made aware of the lead exposure until months after the switch.

“The ultimate goal here is to get [the] lead out of the system,” Eric Oswald, director of the Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division, told AP in a recent interview. He said the state is pushing for municipalities to hurry and replace thousands of old lead pipes running from water mains to houses — or face harsh new operational rules.

There’s been some push back against replacing the pipes, however. Oswald noted that the GOP-led legislature is balking at the pricey venture, which could cost thousands of dollars per line, and is refusing to provide state funding for pipe replacements outside of Flint. For one, the state and federal governments are already spending nearly $97 million to replace lead and galvanized-steel water lines to homes in the lead-ravaged city, according to AP.

Detroit also has an estimated 125,000 lines and may need more than 20 years to replace them all, Oswald said.

The proposal, which was revised after feedback from environmental groups, health experts and others, is expected to change before and after its released for public opinion early next year. Regulators hope to have the rules finalized by January 2018.

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