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Tough lead rules impact Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is an old city--at least as far as its water system is concerned.

From 1877, which is the date of the first ordinance specifying the material to be used for water service lines between the water main and the stop box in the boulevard, until 1930 when copper was added as an acceptable alternative, the standard was lead pipe. After 1930, although lead was still allowed by ordinance, Water Works policy allowed only copper pipe to be installed.

In the new EPA regulation on lead on drinking water, the level limits were dropped from 50 part per billion (ppb) to 15 ppb. The regulation mandates a broad testing program to determine compliance.

If 95 percent of the samples do not meet the 15 ppb limit, then cities must design and implement a corrosion control system. Minneapolis is already designing a corrosion control system for reasons other than lead control. In the last five years, complaints of rusty water have increased and the corrosion control system being installed about mid 1992 should help that problem as well as minimize lead corrosion.

If, however, the corrosion control system does not take care of the lead problem, the rules stipulate that the city must start a 15 year program of replacement of the lead service lines. At the moment this part of the regulation is very controversial as the EPA has ruled that the city must be responsible for the replacement even if its system stops at the property line. Minneapolis, and many other cities throughout the country, do not own the service line. Property owners do.

This part of the regulation is being challenged in court by the American Water Works Association and by other cities where it is even a bigger problem than in Minneapolis. As an example, one large Midwestern city was still installing lead service lines as late as 1988.

No matter who is held to be responsible, the property owner or the city, it would be extremely difficult to accomplish service line replacement within the 15 years time frame and it would be very costly.

In Minneapolis, we estimate that there are now about 65,000 lead service lines still in service. Using the going rate for replacement cost, along with permit cost and street restoration, and using an inflation rate of 4 percent, the 15 year program would cost $130 million. However, not having that much spare money available each year means that to find the project we woud have to sell bonds. Using 7 percent interest and 20 year maturity bonds would increase the total cost to $362.6 million. To put this in perspective, this amount is greater than the replacement cost of the entire 1,000 mile distribution system.

Lead in the environment is a severe health problem. Minneapolis and other cities are taking steps to deal with lead on behalf of our citizens. The huge potential cost of the current EPA regulation, however, is unaffordable and unfair to waste systems that only control water lines from the water main to property line.

Jim F. Hayek is director of water works for the City of Minneapolis.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Minneapolis, Minnesota
Author:Hayek, Jim F.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 4, 1992
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