City moving on the right path to safe drinking water

OLD HOUSES CAN HAVE great charm and attraction. But they can also have hidden dangers.

One of those is lead, a toxin that can be found in old paint or in old water pipes.

In the case of the latter, more attention has been focused on the issue in recent years since the still-ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., arose.

While no community in our area comes anywhere near the level of lead found in Flint’s drinking water – almost 900 times the standards of the federal Safe Water Drinking Act – there still is a concern about addressing lead issues where something can be done about it.

It takes a public-private combination to completely eliminate lead water pipes that can lead to unacceptable or even high levels of lead in drinking water.

That’s because water comes to homes and property through municipal water mains and service laterals that connect to the service laterals and water lines in each individual home and business property.

The city of Plymouth and other communities in the area have been working diligently over the years to replace the lead water laterals underneath city streets with new, lead-free lines.

Plymouth accelerated that effort several years ago after entering into a consent agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources following a brief period of non-compliance with lead content level requirements in 2011. The city quickly became compliant again but still continues its effort to eliminate all public lead service lines.

However, that still leaves the issue of private lead service lines, from the property line to each individual home or building.

The village of Elkhart Lake was one of a handful of communities in the state that was able to take advantage of a federal grant program, administered by the DNR, to partially subsidize the replacement of private lead lines. As a result, lead service lines have been virtually eliminated in the village.

Now the city of Plymouth is looking at how it can follow up on the ongoing elimination of lead public service lines to extend that process to private service lines.

Unfortunately, the requirements of the federal grant program precluded the city from pursuing that route. But city officials are continuing to look at other ways to help city residents achieve that goal.

The state Legislature last month passed, and Gov. Scott Walker signed into law, a bill that offers several possible ways for the city to aid private property owners in replacing lead laterals.

Under the new statute, the city can offer loans to property owners to replace lead laterals, with the loan repaid over a fixed period of time at a fixed interest rate through an added assessment on the property tax bill.

Or Plymouth Utilities can provide either grants or loans, or both, to property owners to pay for lateral replacements.

The City Council’s Public Works and Utilities Committee has begun consideration of the available alternatives and, with the help and input of city staff, will ultimately make a recommendation to the full council as to which route to take.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, both to affected property owners and all city water customers. Determining the right approach to take will require study and careful consideration.

But making that study and considering what is the right approach is taking a huge step in the right direction toward safe drinking water for all.

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