Although Wisconsin banned lead in drinking water pipes in 1984, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 176,000 Wisconsin homes receive water through lead pipes (source: Wisconsin Watch). Lead exposure comes from many sources, such as dust from lead paint. The US Centers for Disease Control states that lead impacts children and pregnant women the most. Lead exposure can cause low birth weight, ADHD, delayed learning, behavior problems, developmental problems, high blood pressure, reproductive problems, and kidney problems. Even children exposed to low levels of lead have an increased risk of neurological harm.

Wisconsin water utilities can now use water rate revenue to replace the customer-owned portion of a lead service line. Allowing utility funding to contribute to these upgrades will improve public health, increase public acceptance of rate increases, and improve compliance with lead limits for drinking water.

Utilities must apply to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) for approval. The PSC requires the following before this program can be implemented:

1.  Identify a contact person at the utility

2. Pass an ordinance permitting utility funding of the program

3. Ensure that the utility-owned portion of the lateral is lead-free

4. Show that grants will only fund half the cost and that funding to different customers will be equal

5. Inventory and map lead water laterals

6. Describe and provide a timeline of the program

7.  Estimate the program’s cost and impact on water rates and identify funding sources

8. Propose revisions to the utility’s PSC tariff to implement the program

9.  Explain how the utility will communicate the program to customers

10. Identify and apply for any required state or local permits

The Kenosha Water Utility is the first utility to be approved for this program under the new process. It’s important to note that the PSC asked the Utility many additional questions; some appear broad or unrelated to water lateral replacements, such as factors that need to be considered when routing water mains and the number of hydrants included in the project.

We expect that the PSC will streamline its process as more water utilities request and receive approval to replace customer-owned lead laterals. In the meantime, our experts can help you navigate the regulatory approvals needed to fund this important enhancement in public health and safety.

Contact an expert at R/M today.


About the Author

Andrew J. Behm

Andrew j. Behm
Financial Analyst

Andrew is responsible for finding financial and management solutions for public utilities at R/M. Before joining R/M, he provided management and financial assistance to municipal water, wastewater, and energy utilities in Wisconsin and around the country, including work as an analyst at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

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