Water — whether there’s too much of it through flooding out west or not enough with the drought right here in Bethany, or the materials used for it, such as the case in Newark, NJ, which spent nearly $200 million to replace residents’ lead water lines, and now has become an issue for the city of Batavia — is no doubt a force to be reckoned with sooner or later.
Newark’s officials were lauded for creating a lead line replacement program — replacing all 23,000 lines — and the Environmental Protection Agency is enforcing a Lead and Copper Rule Revision that Batavia must follow by developing a service line inventory, city management says.
Although they’re not certain about a timeline to follow, the first step is to get that inventory completed by Oct. 24, 2024, Public Works Director Brett Frank said.
“What we're basically asking the public to do is, we've got to gather a bunch of landline inventory, it's your water service inventory that we're looking to obtain. So right on the city website underneath the Public Works page, if you click that ... that'll take you to a flyer that explains what a water service line is, and what the common materials are. And we're looking to have people scan a QR code and take a picture of their water service line," Frank said. "Easiest way to tell what kind of line you have is, if it's old galvanized steel, you take a magnet, and it'll stick right to your water service line, which runs directly to your water meter. It’s typically going to be one of four materials, it's either going to be galvanized steel, copper, plastic, or in extremely rare cases, it's going to be a lead service line inside the home, which we rarely ever run into. So it's not anything for people to be alarmed about."
Earlier this week during City Council’s business meeting, Frank and City Manager Rachael Tabelski reviewed the program and plan to gather service line information from residents. This doesn’t mean that city water is unsafe; to the contrary, the city provides high-quality drinking water, Tabelski said: “We test the water several times a day,” she said.
The city has an effective corrosion control process tore cue the risk of lead leaching from lead plumbing materials, and the city routinely tests the water and results are consistently below the EPA action level for lead, according to that water pamphlet Frank mentioned.
This first step is just about getting an idea of how many property owners in the city have pipes with lead in them, either the pipe itself or having been soldered together with lead. Using a magnet will identify the pipe material, because if it sticks, the pipe is galvanized steel versus copper, plastic, or lead.
Due to this being a potential monster of a project, Frank is hoping that residents will use the city website and/or pamphlet and QR code, take and submit a photo of their water lines, and reduce that portion of work from city staff. Eventually, it may come to hiring an intern or seasonal staff to assist with gathering inventory if citizens aren’t responding to this appeal for assistance, he said.
Meanwhile, the city has applied for grant funding to do a “potholing” project to discover the existence of lead lines between the public side — the city’s responsibility — on the street over to the private side — the homeowner’s property, which runs from the curb line through the basement to the water meter.
“So if that grant comes through, that would give us enough data to where we could plug it into what's called a predictive modeling platform,” he said. “So that's the goal is to get this grant to do roughly, 1,100 to 1,200 potholes, plug that into what's called a predictive modeling platform, and then we could use that data, which is accepted to kind of map out where we believe we will find lead services. A complicated process, right?”
Right. All of this process has to happen before the city even gets to the point of discussing lead line replacement. And once that arises, the city, while nowhere near where Newark was financially, is still looking at a $30 million project cost, Tabelski and Frank said.
Lead has been a hot topic of the moment, not only with water lines, but also within the home. Genesee County Health Department has devoted funding for the dangers of exposure to lead-filled paint in older homes, as lead is a toxic material, and can cause health issues, especially in children.
Perhaps that’s why it was “one of the big items” for discussion at a recent New York Conference of Mayors that Tabelski and Frank attended. While they don’t want to sound any alarms, nobody wants to see issues from undue lead exposure down the road either.
“We're facing about $30 million of lead replacements, not only on the public side but on the homeowner side. We are meeting weekly now to try to deploy a plan because by October we need to identify as many lead or non-lead services in the city to gain a better understanding of what our replacement will actually look like. And to hone in on that $30 million cost,” Tabelski said. “There's been new rules that have come out that basically say you can't replace the city side and not replace the owner side. So legally, we need to work through some of those challenges.”
If anyone has questions or would like to schedule to have your pipe checked in your home, call 585-343-6345 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.