What to know about Two Rivers’ water exceeding lead standards for safe drinking
Greg Buckley, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin | October 26, 2017
Current federal and state standards require that public water systems conduct sampling and testing of water drawn from faucets at customers’ homes every three years. The number of sampling locations varies, depending on the number of customers served by the system. For Two Rivers, 30 samples are required.
A public water system “passes” its lead sampling, or falls below U.S. EPA and Wisconsin DNR action levels, if no more than 10 percent of samples exceed 15 parts per billion of lead.
In the case of Two Rivers’ most recent round of lead sampling/testing, completed in September, six samples (16.7 percent) exceeded 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. That means our system exceeded the “action level” for federal and state safe drinking water standards.
Just for the record, those six samples yielded results of 16, 19, 21, 45, 47 and 61 ppb.
As the result, the city is required to notify water system customers of this exceedance of the action level for lead in drinking water, and to provide public education materials on lead in drinking water.
Such notification, in addition to this column, includes a general press release that is going to area media and being posted on the city’s website (www.two-rivers.org) and a notification printed on customers’ utility bills.
In addition, an educational pamphlet on “Important Information on Lead in Your Drinking Water” is being mailed within the next week to every customer of the Two Rivers Water Utility. That pamphlet is also available on the city’s website.
Corrosion control measures
Customers should understand that lead is not naturally occurring in our Lake Michigan water supply; it ends up in drinking water as the result of the wearing away, or corrosion, of lead in older water service laterals that connect your home or business to the main, and in household pipes and plumbing fixtures.
There is little or no lead in the 72-mile network of water mains that is the backbone of the city’s water distribution system.
The City of Two Rivers has been treating its water with a “corrosion control” chemical (sodium hydroxide) since 1996, to adjust the water’s acidity (pH) and create a lining on the interior of mains, water service laterals and household plumbing. Such treatment is intended to keep lead from service laterals and plumbing from leaching into the drinking water.
This program has generally been effective, and contributed to the utility “passing” its lead testing in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2011 and 2014, when less than 10 percent of samples exceeded 15 ppb of lead. (We previously exceeded the action level in 2008, but passed a subsequent round of testing.)
Water utility staff carefully monitor the dosing of the corrosion control chemical, and levels of that chemical out in the distribution system have been maintained at what are recognized as optimal levels.
Based on the most recent lead testing results, the utility is currently pilot testing an alternative chemical, which has provided successful lead control results for a number of other water systems.
More testing in the months ahead
The city can return to compliance with Safe Drinking Water standards by successfully completing two rounds of sampling (60 samples each), where fewer than 10 percent of samples exceed 15 ppb of lead. One such round of sampling will occur between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2018, the second between July 1 and Dec. 31 of 2018.
Continued efforts to ‘get the lead out’
The long-term solution to the issue of lead in drinking water is, of course, the elimination of lead from our drinking water delivery system — both the publicly owned portion of the system and the private, household portion.
The City of Two Rivers in recent years has routinely replaced the “public portion” of lead water service laterals (water main to shutoff valve at the edge of street right-of-way) when streets are reconstructed or water mains are replaced.
The city also recently passed an ordinance requiring the replacement of “private-side” lead service laterals (street to water meter) whenever such work is done on the public system.
We have successfully accessed U.S. EPA funds available through Wisconsin DNR — $300,000 for 2017, $500,000 for 2018 — to assist homeowners with such “private-side” lead service lateral replacement. We currently have a contractor engaged in replacing 71 such private-side lead service laterals.
Unfortunately, there will likely be no federal or state grant money available for such assistance after 2019.
Replacing those laterals is expensive, and there are a lot of them: an estimated 2,269 out of about 5,500 total water service laterals in our system.
As the result of our recent non-compliance, the city will need to replace 7 percent of the lead service laterals in its water distribution system in 2018. That’s a total of 159 water service laterals.
If the system returns to compliance in 2018, this replacement mandate will not apply in 2019.
Whether mandated or not, the city will continue to work to replace lead service laterals, to the extent that is financially feasible.
Replacement of existing lead service laterals costs about $8,000 each; about $3,000 on the “private side” and about $5,000 on the “public side” (more expensive because it involves street excavation and restoration).
Two Rivers not alone in this
Please understand that Two Rivers is not alone in this. Most older communities still have lots of lead water laterals in service (and lead-containing plumbing and fixtures in homes), and utilize corrosion control technology to limit residents’ exposure to lead.
Lead pipe was used for water service laterals up into the 1950s, and lead solder for household plumbing was not banned until 1986.
Many of those communities do exceed the lead action levels from time to time. Two Rivers previously had an exceedance back in 2008. Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay, like Two Rivers, exceeded the action level this year. Menasha, Neenah and Green Bay have had exceedances in recent years.
A March 2016 article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that from 2012 to 2015, 81 different Wisconsin water utilities exceeded the lead action level at least once.
That said, the City of Two Rivers takes the safety of our drinking water seriously, and will keep the community updated on the water utility’s efforts to assure compliance with state and federal standards.
Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley can be contacted by calling 920-793-5532 or by emailing email@example.com.