Pennsylvania empowers municipalities to replace lead service lines

Pennsylvania was already one of the 11 states taking proactive efforts to support LSL replacement since 2015. HB-674 expands that effort.  Check our website for what states and communities are doing.

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

In October 2017, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed and Governor Wolf signed HB-674 which implements the State’s 2017-18 budget. Section 1719-E of the law includes a provision empowering municipal authorities to replace or remediate private water and sewer laterals if the municipality determines the work “will benefit the public health.”

The section defines a private water lateral to mean “a line on a property upon which a building or structure is located that connects to a public water system.” These laterals are commonly known as service lines. When they contain lead pipe, they are lead service lines (LSLs).

The law allows municipalities to use public funds and municipal employees to replace service lines as long as they first consider the availability of and competing demands on public funds, equipment, personnel and facilities. The law also makes clear that replacing a LSL does not make a municipality the owner of the private lateral or obligate it to perform other duties; although the municipality is given the option to do that if necessary.

While only municipalities can use this new authority, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission showed a willingness to allow private utilities to take similar action in its March 2017 decision regarding York Water Company. Recognizing the potential public health hazard of replacing only the utility-owned portion of a LSL and the problems associated with relying on property owners to replace their portion, the Commission allowed the private utility to add the cost of replacing LSLs on private property into the rates it charges to all customers. The decision sets an important precedent by establishing a framework for action.

With an estimated 160,000 LSLs in the state, we hope that municipalities will use this new authority to better protect their residents from lead in drinking water. Similarly, we hope that the almost 40 private utilities in the state seek the Commission’s approval to replace LSLs on private property.

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