MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday, December 13th approved with a 12-3 vote, a plan to begin replacing underground water laterals using public and homeowner funds. It's an extensive project that could take decades to complete -- and homeowners will pay part of the cost.
Under the project, water lateral replacement from under streets and into homes and businesses would begin in 2017 for daycare facilities and some problem areas of the city. All others would be replaced starting in 2018.
"We want to assure that any leaded service lines serving the population that would be drinking that water of a vulnerable age be addressed first and foremost," Alderman Jim Bohl said.
It's an effort to stop the health risks that come along with lead contamination due to aging pipes, and improve the infrastructure.
Aldermen believe there are approximately 68,000 homes in the city that would be impacted by this lateral replacement plan -- all built before 1951. That's a little less than half of the homes in the City of Milwaukee.
The city would pay for the costs associated with replacing the pipe sections on public property.
As part of this approved plan, the city will pay for the underground work leading up to a private property -- and then offer to help homeowners pay for the remaining part of the lateral replacement on that private property -- up to $1,600. The plan would require homeowners to pay the money back over a period of 10 years.
Willie Hart owns a home on Milwaukee's northwest side and said underground pipes and the water supply should be 100% the city's responsibility.
"It's not fair to the homeowners to require that they pay for that. We pay too much money to the city. They should take care of that. It's not fair to the property owners," Hart said.
"The message I have for the residents of our city is that we do have safe drinking water -- and that's important. There's no lead in our mains. We know there's an issue with our aging infrastructure, our lead laterals in particular and for the 70,000 homes that have those lead laterals, it's important that when there's a disruption, in particular, that those lead laterals are replaced. We understand there are going to be families who can't afford this right now. At the same time, there are absentee landlords who would not be doing this if we did not mandate it," Mayor Barrett said.
Mayor Tom Barrett released the following statement regarding the Common Council’s vote:
“I’m pleased by the Common Council’s vote today in support of the administration’s plan to remove lead service lines from all Milwaukee properties. I am also grateful to Alderman Jim Bohl, Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Alderwoman Milele Coggs for their leadership and engagement on this important issue.
“With the passage of the ordinance today, and over $6 million in funding in my 2017 City budget, the City now has the tools in place to start systematically removing all 70,000 lead service lines in the city. We will start that important work by replacing lead service lines at 385 day care facilities and fully replacing hundreds more leaking and failed service lines as they happen.
“Milwaukee continues to move forward in the fight against lead. I’m thankful for the Council’s support and the hard work being put into this effort by City departments.”
Mayor Barrett's Office offered this additional information to FOX6 News:
Milwaukee water meets all EPA standards for water quality. While Milwaukee takes the step of treating its water to reduce the risk that lead can dissolve into water, there are additional steps that residents can take if they have a lead service line. These are most important for families with children under 6 (especially bottle-fed infants) and/or pregnant or breastfeeding women in the home. You can find these steps at www.Milwaukee.gov/health.
Included in these steps is a recommendation that families who live in homes with lead service lines AND who have children under the age of 6 (especially bottle-fed infants) and/or pregnant or breastfeeding women consider using a drinking water filter certified to remove lead. You can find information on filters at www.milwaukee.gov/WaterFilter.
In the 2017 budget, $150,000 has been allocated to the City of Milwaukee Health Department for the purchase of drinking water filters certified to remove lead. Currently, the MHD has issued a bid for pricing in order to make the 2017 purchase.
In November 2016, thanks to a donation by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and the health system partners of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, the MHD worked with community partners to implement a pilot program for filter distribution. The 2016 pilot program has ended, and the MHD is currently evaluating feedback as it plans to make filters available again in 2017.
Monitor FOX6 News and FOX6Now.com for updates on this developing story.