Lead water pipe replacement taking decades to finish

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 8:50 PM EDT
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JACKSON, Mich. (WILX) - Benton Harbor is running out of bottled water early. People there are using it for everything, since the city announced its water has too much lead and isn’t safe.

There are thousands of lead water lines across mid-Michigan. Now, there’s an effort to speed up line replacements, though not every community is speeding up its timeline.

The city of Jackson said it is keeping its 35-year timeline to replace more than 11,000 lines. It replaced around 300 lines since the Flint water crisis, which surprised some residents.

“I had no idea there were still lead water pipes,” said Matthew Oberst. “I would not like to see what happened in Flint here in Jackson. That’s why I think this needs to be taken care of.”

Of Jackson’s 12,042 water lines, 11,339 of them are known to have lead.

“We’re in a position where we already started, but we got a late start,” said Aaron Dimick, city of Jackson spokesman.

Dimick said the city plans to increase how many lines it replaces every year, but it will still take about 35 years to get them all.

“It’s mostly the sheer number and a huge undertaking. Because you have to dig up part of the street, you have to dig up people’s front yards or parking lots if it is a business,” said Dimick.

He said right now, the city isn’t worried about becoming the next Flint or Benton Harbor.

“We know lead service lines cause problems and they need to be taken out as soon as possible. We do a lot of testing of our water system. We take samples from across the city and compare them,” said Dimick.

Dimick told News 10 all levels are currently below the state guidelines and is safe to drink. There’s no concern about Lansing’s water.

Lansing’s Board of Water and Light replaced all lead lines before Flint’s water was tainted.

“If you’re proactive, it’s generally cheaper to be ahead of the curve and get this done. In this case, I think it paid off,” said Dick Peffley, Lansing BWL General Manager.

Peffley said BWL developed new ways to get the pipes replaced and crews got all 12,000 lines replaced in 12 years. He said since Flint’s water crisis, they’ve used that in other communities.

“We’re starting to get more calls and we’re willing to help any community. Talk to them and if need be we could actually go down there and train them as we did in Flint,” said Peffley.

Peffley said no one from Benton Harbor has contacted them yet about getting lead water lines out of the ground. Replacing lead water lines is part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

It includes $45 billion for communities to get lead water lines out of the water system. You can access the water line inventory from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy HERE.

Water SystemKnown LeadPreviously Connected To LeadLikely LeadNo InformationLikely Not LeadNo LeadTotal Service Lines
Blackman Township300002,7682,7771
East Lansing134602612,7224,4387,935
Eaton Rapids9600003,1043,200
Grand Ledge0002,00669279,939
Grass Lake0000304271575
Lansing BWL0000060,40660,406
Lansing Township000002,2392,239
Leoni Township00006880688
Meridian Township0000011,85211,852
Napoleon Township00000148148
St. Johns002801082,7192,855
Summit Township000055207,646

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